During the last week of February, officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Division of Law Enforcement were busy with a series of commercial fishing violations.

Officer Allen was on water patrol on the Apalachicola River when he observed a vessel operating without navigational lights pull into some sawgrass in an attempt to conceal the boat. He followed the vessel into the sawgrass and conducted a stop, where he found three occupants lying in the bottom of the boat in an attempt to hide. During the stop, he discovered the occupants in possession of an illegal net over 2,000 square feet with an illegal mesh size. They were also in possession of a commercial quantity of fish.

All three subjects were issued citations for possession of a net greater than two-inch stretch, nets not marked, possession of entangling net, possession of net greater than two–inch stretch on a vessel less than 25 feet in length with a motor in forward half. The net measured over 11,000 square feet. The net and fish were seized as evidence.

Officer Gore concluded an investigation which stemmed from an attempted vessel stop three weeks ago. Officer Anderson and he were on water patrol in Apalachicola Bay when they observed a boat operating without navigational lights. They kept the boat under surveillance and determined the vessel was engaged in commercial net fishing. The officers got close enough to the vessel undetected and attempted to conduct a vessel stop, but the vessel failed to stop and fled.

The officers stayed alongside the vessel, identified the operator, and observed the other vessel occupant dump a large quantity of net into the water. The suspect vessel then continued into a cove on the north end of the St. George Island Plantation. The officers followed the vessel into the cove where they found it aground. The suspects had left the vessel and ran on foot to the Plantation.

A ground search was conducted, but the officers were unable to locate the two occupants. The vessel operator was identified and it was determined his commercial fishing license was revoked, and was out on bond for a previous arrest for net fishing violations. During the investigation, Gore obtained evidence and secured warrants for the operator and passenger for fleeing and attempting to elude an FWC officer, possession of a commercial quantity of fish while license is revoked, fishing with a net greater than 500 square feet with an illegal mesh size, connecting nets, and nets not marked. The operator has 89 prior arrests for resource violations.

During the investigation, Gore determined several individuals assisted the operator to elude authorities, attempted to claim the boat was stolen, and concealed the crime. He cited these individuals for giving false information to a law enforcement officer during an investigation. One of these subjects had 72 prior resource arrests. All five suspects have been arrested. Gore was assisted in the case by Investigators Bryant and Cook, Officers Cook, Stephens, Louque, and Anderson, and Lt. Wood.

Officers Allen and Gore cited individuals during shellfish patrols this past week for harvesting oysters in a closed area and possession of undersized oysters. All suspects had prior arrests for the same violations.