Two commercial fishermen were arrested and charged with 664 individual fishing violations each, after they were caught fishing in a reserve in the Dry Tortugas.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers charged Capt. Evelio Egusquiza Fornes of Miami and mate Jorge Gallart of Stock Island with 664 misdemeanor counts of violating saltwater fishing regulations, according to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office website.
The fishermen were caught Tuesday in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve with 664 yellowtail snapper on their boat, the Candalaria, according to FWC spokesman Bob Dube.
FWC law enforcement officers were tipped off by the boat's satellite tracking device, which the federal government requires for commercial fishermen of reef species off the Florida Keys, Dube said.
The men kept turning off the tracking device, trying to elude law enforcement, he said.
The duo also faces federal civil citations and fines under the National Marine Sanctuary program, as the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will review the case, officials said.
Anchoring and fishing in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve is strictly prohibited without a federal permit.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary set aside the 151-square-nautical mile reserve in 2001.
The area is a known snapper and grouper spawning site.
The arrests come a week after a study was released touting the success of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve.
The study found that:
• Commercial and recreational fishermen have not suffered financially from the reserve;
• Overfished species such as black and red grouper, yellowtail and mutton snapper have increased inside and outside the reserve;
• Annual mutton snapper spawning has begun again in the reserve;
• Commercial catches of reef fish in the region have increased, and continue to do so.