BIG BEND, FL - On Tuesday, April 5, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers aboard the FWC’s offshore patrol vessel Fin Cat along with FWC aviation unit officers were jointly conducting an operation to monitor for stone crab vessels fishing in the closed areas of the Big Bend stone crab – shrimping zones.
The FWC aviation crew advised they had viewed a stone crab vessel in closed zone 2. That vessel began making circles in the area to retrieve their traps from the bottom, actively fishing their traps in a closed area.
“When the vessel crew of the Nauti Crab noticed our patrol vessel headed toward them, the crew dropped all of the stone crab gear to the bottom,” said Lt. Scott Smith. The captain stated they had broken down and just fixed their vessel. They insisted they had not been crabbing in that area.”
“All crew members were wearing ‘slickers,’ a common practice when working stone crab traps. There were also boxes of bait all over the deck of the vessel,” said Lt. Smith. “They were using a long line gear setup, with 60 to 80 traps all connected on one line under water and invisible to the eye. Each line should be marked by a buoy; however, not a single line we located was marked.”
FWC officers documented the evidence and followed the stone crab vessel back into its home port of Hernando Beach. The vessel’s GPS units along with drugs and paraphernalia were seized and placed into evidence. FWC officers later returned to the location of the GPS coordinates where the crew stopped working and, dragging a grapple behind the patrol vessel, located 57 stone crab traps. Officers continued to discover traps in the closed zone. More than 525 traps have been documented, all belonging to the vessel captain.
This investigation is ongoing.
Andrew Bertine, 54, of Lecanto, Scott Lefke, 53, of Homosassa, Matthew Bransfield, 40, of Citrus Springs and George Boynton, 48, of Homosassa were arrested and transported to Citrus County Jail. They were charged with 10 misdemeanors and two felonies for the following:
- Possession of undersized stone crab claws.
- Possession of methamphetamine.
- Possession of drug paraphernalia.
- No aerial display of stone crab numbers or buoy.
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