A Florida man is due in court after police said that while he was in the Keys he helped himself to two queen conch, which are illegal to harvest in the Sunshine State.
Michael Ross Finch, 36, of Jensen Beach, was given a mandatory notice to appear in court citation for possession of queen conch and mutilation of queen conch.
The mollusks, known for their heavy shells with glossy interiors, were returned to the water alive, said Adam Linhardt, a spokesman for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
A deputy spotted Finch with the conch on Tuesday while responding to a different incident, Linhardt said.
Middle Keys Deputy Willie Guerra was called to the Kingsail Resort, 7050 Overseas Highway, at about 3:30 p.m. A pickup truck towing a boat trailer had sunk into the water at the boat ramp and needed a tow.
Guerra dealt with that first. But before he left he saw a man, later identified as Finch, walk out of a hotel room, sit down and begin smashing the shell of a live queen conch with a knife.
“Deputy Guerra quickly approached and saw Finch had two live queen conch,” said Linhardt.
Finch stated he caught the conch while diving on the bayside.
Finch also said he didn’t know queen conch are a protected species.
Ignorance was also the defense of a Texas woman caught with 40 queen conch in July 2017.
A year later, Diana Fiscal-Gonzalez, of Dallas, pleaded no contest to taking the conchs. She apologized to Judge Mark Wilson, saying she didn’t know it was illegal to take them.
The judge sentenced her to 15 days in the county jail.
She had plucked the conchs from the sea with the help of several children.
Most of the conch were returned to the ocean alive, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.
Queen conch was once plentiful in the Keys. But conch fisheries collapsed in the 1970s, and it’s now illegal to harvest them in Florida. The U.S. consumes 80% of the world’s internationally traded queen conch, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Conch are a defining symbol of Key West, where a huge sculpture of a shell stands outside Key West High School. The school’s teams are the “Fighting Conchs,” and native Key Westers refer to themselves proudly as “Conchs.”