According to FKCFA Executive Director Bill Kelly, losses to the lobster and stone crab industry due to illegal harvesting is estimated at more than $7 million annually.
“These kind of numbers are unsustainable,” Kelly said. “But we are fortunate to have the support and partnership of the State Attorney’s Office, NOAA Law Enforcement, Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, Coast Guard, and FWC in a cooperative effort to end these illegal practices.”
As fishermen and their guests munched on seafood at Keys Fisheries, Kelly cited specific cases handled by the State Attorney that resulted in stiff fines and maximum jail sentences for crimes against commercial fishermen and the environment.
Like Val Winter’s diligence in the Bethel trap molestation case which resulted in a lifetime revocation of fishing licenses, fines and court costs.
Kelly said State Attorney Dennis Ward successfully prosecuted some of the highest profile cases in Monroe County and “assembled one of the finest prosecutorial teams of assistant state attorneys ever seen in Monroe County.”
“They do such a fantastic job,” said Ward. “And I hope people are getting the message that we have a zero tolerance for this. Some people think it’s a joke that we are putting people in jail for stealing lobster. They just don’t get it – that is a commodity down here and they are interfering with people’s businesses. If you are stealing people’s livelihoods, we are going to get you as much time as we possibly can.”
Other honorees included NOAA law enforcement officers Ken Blackburn and John O’Malley – a team Kelly referred to as “an army of two” in the fight to protect natural resources. Their recent work resulted in a $500,000 restitution payment in just one case.