They’re watching you…and now, they’re doing it with a vengeance.
Plagued for years by thieves who repeatedly snag the crop of lobster and stone crabs from commercial fishermen’s traps, the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen Association (FKCFA) and Organized Fishermen of Florida (OFF) have provided the Marine Patrol division of the Monroe County Sheriffs Office and FWC with new equipment to crack down on offenders.
“We have a lot of members of our community that make a living this way,” said Assistant State Attorney Patrick McCullah of commercial fishermen. “When someone steals these traps, it’s like taking money directly out of their pockets, just like any other form of robbery.”
The biggest challenge, McCullah said, is catching the offenders in the act.
In the past, photos collected from fishermen and volunteer aerial surveillance planes have not yielded the clearest photos to make a case.
When a local fisherman received the Celestron telescope as a gift from his wife and realized the alternate possibilities, he contacted his buddy, Conch Key commercial fisherman Jeff Cramer.
“The new equipment has been amazing,” Cramer said. “Thefts in our area have been cut by 95 percent.”
The current telescope and 15-mega pixel camera combination can capture details like boat names, registration numbers and buoy shapes and colors from up to 10 miles away.
Hal Osburn, executive director of FKCFA said his organization partnered with OFF to help purchase their own camera and special lens, and even though FKCFA has already documented a decrease in incidences, there are still more criminals on the water.
“Every licensed trapper knows of at least two or three more offenders out there,” Osburn said. “There are definitely a tremendous number more out there.”
Cramer said though the cameras have served as a great deterrent, he and other fishermen know that offenders are now simply moving to traps further off shore.
“Our areas of concern are now off East Cape,” he explained. “We’re now looking at a way logistically to survey farther off shore.”
Osburn said the two non-profit organizations are hoping to become a telescope library. They are currently in the process of applying for a grant for law enforcement improvement projects available through the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office that would help to purchase additional telescope and camera combinations for use in Key Largo and Key West.
“Right now, we’re willing to lend out the equipment to anyone who’s willing to volunteer their time for visual reconnaissance,” Osburn said.
Several middle Keys waterfront homeowners have already volunteered their property as unobstructed viewing sites to further the operation’s range.
Deputy Willie Guerra, MSCO Marine Patrol Unit for Marathon, said the new equipment has bridged the gap between fishermen and law enforcement.
“We’re now able to record solid evidence and catch these guys in the act,” Guerra said, adding that the time lost between receiving a call about a suspicious boat and his unit’s response time allowed trap robbers too much time to leave the scene. “We have neighborhood watches on land, and now our fishermen are as effective as a citizen patrol on the water.”
Camera and Scope
This celestial telescope and digital camera combination is capable of capturing images as far as 10 miles away.
Assistant State Attorney Patrick McCullah said when criminals rob the traps of licensed commercial fishermen; it is akin to taking money right out of their pockets.
This criminal was brought to justice after the new telescope and camera provided solid evidence to make a case in court.