NOAA SERO 99-60
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Linda Taylor
10/7/99

NOAA CHARGES VESSEL OWNERS AND OPERATORS FOR FISHING IN FLORIDA WEST COAST PROTECTED AREAS

The owners and operators of two Florida west coast commercial fishing vessels were assessed penalties totaling $36,500 and permit sanctions for unlawful fishing with either fish traps or longline gear in areas closed to those gear types, the National Marine Fisheries Service's southeast regional Office for Law Enforcement announced today.

Ronald Dean Foster of Inglis, Florida, was assessed civil penalties of $11,500 and a thirty day permit sanction following an investigation into the unlawful deployment of fish traps in the area known as the Florida Middle Grounds. The Florida Middle Grounds, located approximately 70 nautical miles northwest of Clearwater is designated as a "Habitat Area of Particular Concern" (HAPC) where the use of several types of commercial gear, including fish traps, is prohibited to protect and keep fish stocks high.

Foster's fishing vessel Beaver was sighted by the Coast Guard cutter Point Jackson on February 10, 1999, operating in the vicinity of the Middle Grounds. Special Agents with NOAA's Office for Law Enforcement investigated and determined that traps located within the HAPC belonged to Foster. In addition to the charge of using fish traps in an illegal area, Foster is charged with:

  • Failing to display and maintain gear identification
  • Failing to comply with trap construction requirements
  • Failing to comply with restrictions on the sale of greater amberjack possessed during seasonal closure.

"The use of fish traps in the Florida Middle Grounds has been prohibited since the mid 1980's. Poachers are warned that NOAA, and our Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission partners, will vigorously investigate and prosecute violations occurring within these protected areas," stated Eugene Proulx southeast region Special Agent-in-Charge, NOAA Fisheries.

The second case involves the fishing vessel Southern Cross operated by William Gregg Haring of Sarasota, Florida. On August 2, 1999, the Coast Guard cutter Marlin detected the Southern Cross within the boundary of the longline and buoy gear restricted area. As the investigation unfolded, the evidence documented illegal bottom longline fishing within the restricted area, in addition to:

disposing of gear and catch after approach by the cutter Marlin
possession of filleted shark and undersized red grouper which were being used for bait.

Haring was assessed civil penalties of $25,000 and a 60 day permit sanction for these violations.

NOAA Fisheries Special Agent Andy Emerson of Ft. Myers conducted the follow up investigation into the case and seized proceeds in the amount of $9,693.40 from the sale of 4,813 pounds of red grouper harvested by the Southern Cross. "Fishing in the restricted area and disposal of evidence are extremely serious violations that were further compounded by the use of shark and undersized red grouper as bait. This destructive practice defeats the benefits of size limit regulations. Violations of this nature are a high priority," said Special Agent Emerson.

"The vessel owners and operators of the Beaver and Southern Cross have 30 days from the date they receive the notices of penalties and permit sanctions to either pay the penalty, seek to have the assessment modified, or request a hearing before an administrative law judge to deny or contest all or any part of the violations charged and the penalties assessed," said Enforcement Attorney Cynthia Fenyk of NOAA's Office of General Counsel, who is prosecuting the case.

The Fisheries Service is an agency of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Fisheries Service conducts scientific research and provides services and products to support fisheries management, fisheries development, trade and industry assistance, enforcement, and protected species and habitat conservation programs.