Two men accused of killing and butchering a protected loggerhead sea turtle were arrested Friday by state wildlife officers at a Stock Island dock.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer Jimmy Johnson and Lt. Roy Payne were on a stakeout at the dock off Maloney Avenue when they saw two men in a small wooden skiff return with what looked like a mesh dive bag of wrung lobster tails, Johnson said.
Inside the bag they found the remains of a butchered turtle.
There was no turtle carcass, just the fin meat, Johnson said.
Alejandro Alvarez, 64, of Miami, and Israel Bonochea Ruiz, 30, of Key West, were charged with possession of marine sea turtle, a third-degree felony that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison if they are convicted.
"It's quite some time since we've had a case like this," Johnson said. "I've been here 26 years and I think it's been a good 20 years since we had one here on the lower end."
The turtle remains will be taken to the Marathon Turtle Hospital so experts there can determine exactly what species of turtle was killed, Richie Moretti Marathon Turtle Hospital founder said.
"It just breaks your heart," Moretti said. "It's great that FWC caught these guys and we will follow this along to make sure they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law .... One turtle can make a difference. Only about one out of 100 make it to adult. Each turtle is precious. These guys are robbing future generations of being able to see sea turtles."
The loggerhead turtle was first listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened in July 1978.
Whether or not the case remains a third-degree felony state case or will be handled by federal prosecutors remains to be seen.
The men told officers there were commercial fishermen, but neither are members of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Assocation, said Executive Director Bill Kelly.
"We are appalled by this case and certainly hope the FWC and the State Attorney's Office go for the strictest penalties possible," Kelly said.
Both men were released from Monroe County Detention Center Saturday after posting $1,500 bail, according to jail records.
• Two arrested in separate finfish case
Shortly after the turtle arrest, the same FWC officers saw another skiff dock and place a 5-gallon bucket on the sea wall, according to an FWC press release.
Inside the bucket were 47 lane, yellowtail and mutton snapper. Forty-four were already fileted and undersized, Johnson said.
Charged in the snapper case were: Roberto Torna, 43, and Michael Navarpo, 22, both of Key West. Each was charged with possession of 44 snapper not landed in whole condition and 27 over the daily recreational bag limit of snapper.
Neither man had a commercial fishing license, according to an FWC press release.