A Marathon commercial fisherman wanted by state wildlife officers for allegedly fishing for lobster with untagged traps turned himself in Thursday after returning from Cuba.
Ricardo Hernandez, 52, faces 71 misdemeanor conservation violations.
Earlier this month, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers issued arrest warrants for Hernandez and his mates after surveilling their fishing boat for two months, said FWC Officer Bobby Dube. When the warrants were issued, FWC officers discovered he was in Cuba.
Mate Juan Miguel Exposito-Carralero, 46, was also charged with 71 misdemeanor counts. He was arrested last week.
Hernandez returned from Cuba recently and turned himself in at the jail, said FWC Capt. David Dipre.
The FWC alleges that 19 untagged traps were fished and others were improperly numbered.
The case marks a shift in how some poachers are reacting to the FWC as well as the Florida Keys Commercial Fishing Association’s efforts to quelch trap robbing — they moved to fishing with untagged traps.
The FWC has been using vessels with trap haulers on them to check more traps to see if they are tagged or not.
State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, worked with the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, the State Attorney’s Office and the FWC on a bill that made putting out traps without tag a third-degree felony, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.
The final bill that passed did not make the violation of using non-tagged traps a felony, but it did make other changes to make violations for lobster and stone crab more consistent. It brought harsher penalties for anglers caught taking under-sized lobster.
The spiny lobster fishery is a $71 million a year industry in the Florida Keys. Fishermen have been paid as much as nearly $20 a pound for lobster in recent years, which gives unscrupulous fishermen incentive to use unlicensed traps.