State wildlife officers say they landed their biggest fin fish case in decades Tuesday when a commercial fisherman with 2.9 short tons, or 5,779 pounds, of yellowtail snapper was cited at a Stock Island fish house for not having the required paperwork -- and more charges could be pending.
The fish was sold to Fishbusterz fish house and the $11,103 check was seized by officers who placed it in an escrow account pending the outcome of the case, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Bobby Dube.
The fisherman, 36-year-old Jorge Luis Concepcion Del Rio of Cape Coral, was cited for not having a restricted species endorsement for commercial harvest, a second-degree misdemeanor, Dube said. If the charge is dismissed, the check will be returned, he added.
"I didn't get an excuse from him as to why he didn't have what is really basic paperwork that all the guys out here know you have to have," said Jimmy Johnson, FWC's investigating officer at the scene.
Johnson is investigating Del Rio's past sales to Fishbusterz, Johnson said, noting that Del Rio apparently was paid about $13,000 by the fish house on July 3.
Commercial fishermen are required to have the endorsement to sell nearly all fish, except species such as grunts, blue runners and others with little value as food fish, Johnson said.
"I was shocked," Johnson said.
"This is a standard license for these guys. I've been here for 25 years -- I haven't heard of a snapper case this big."
Dube said officers also are investigating Fishbusterz, which is required by state law to make sure it is buying from licensed sellers.
"We're looking into why they didn't catch this," Dube said.
"Was this just an oversight? Technically, they're required to check endorsements, but often the fish houses deal with the same guys for 20 years and don't always physically look at it. In real world application, everyone knows everyone by name and face."