On the water with MCSO Marine Patrol
After 16 straight days on the job, Monroe County Sheriff’s Deputy Willie Guerra along with Sgt. Glen Test hit the water on the Middle Keys unit patrol boat to keep this week’s lobster mobsters at bay.
“Looks like gas prices have really affected everybody this year,” Test said as the pair surveyed the flats around Vaca Cut, noting that though the water was busy, they’d certainly seen greater traffic in years past.
At 11 pm, anxious bug hunters readied their vessels along the docks at Little Venice, and sporadic spotlights scanned the shores for spiny lobster as thousands descended on the Keys this week for the opening of the two-day Lobster Sport Mini Season.
Guerra, a Miami native with 12 years under his belt as an MCSO deputy, has garnered quite a cooperative relationship with local commercial fishermen who, prompted by the demand for live lobster on the overseas market in China, use a tagging system to track future harvests once the commercial season opens on August 6.
“We’ll flash the lights and let everybody know we’re here,” Guerra said at 11:30 pm, flicking the switch that controlled the blue strobe mounted on the front of the center console. “Keeps them on their toes.”
The pair counted down the minutes until the official midnight opening and kept their eyes on the water.
“Are they trying to dip early?” Guerra pondered aloud as he approached a skiff loaded with anglers from Palm Beach County.
Guerra offered a friendly but stern inquiry as the patrol boat approached the skiff shining lights in the shallow rocks along the east side of Vaca Cut.
“We know better than that!” a female standing on the bow of the boat insisted. She even extended an offer to the officers to allow them on board the boat to check her bully net.
Monroe County works in conjunction with Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers as well as the U.S. Coast Guard to not only ensure stringent regulations during the mini season are being followed, but also that the flux of often inexperienced boaters remain safe.
Headed back through the Vaca Cut bridge to the check tenacious bully netters on the bay side, a larger boat better suited for cruising than shallow water sports raced under the bridge on the heels of his fellow bug hunting friends in a smaller boat.
“What are you thinking, folks?” Guerra reprimanded. “What you just did was very dangerous!”
Following a stern verbal warning and license check, Guerra said, “That’s just stupid. First time I’ve seen something like that in awhile!”
At 12:30 am, Guerra and Test headed back out to the Jack Tar flat on the ocean side of Vaca Cut, and the water looked like a parking lot at a drive in theatre.
An excited group of young anglers from Jacksonville accompanied by their father gladly turned over their cooler of 24 lobsters for the officers to measure. Unfortunately, nearly a third of the bugs on board were deemed undersized.
As Test and Guerra escorted the tiny Boston Whaler to the dock at Capt. Hook’s to issue a citation and further explain the proper way to measure a spiny lobster, a skiff full of locals with whom Guerra chatted for a few moments earlier in the evening crept out of an adjacent canal.
“That looks suspicious,” Test noted.
“Yea, looks like they’re headed out to try and double dip,” Guerra added as I hopped off the vessel and headed for home at 1:30 am.
Officers will continue to patrol the water on jet skis for easier access during daylight hours and closely monitor hot spots after the sun sets until the closing of the mini sport season at midnight on Thursday, July 28, 2011.