Video footage of an octopus and shark being beaten and dismembered have prompted two arrests for felony animal cruelty. CONTRIBUTED

Two fishermen have been arrested on felony charges of animal cruelty and misdemeanor resource violations following the release of video footage from a commercial fishing vessel by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

On June 1, FWC officers arrested Charles Mora, 30, after an investigation that began in late February 2022. Though the incident took place on board a Marathon-based fishing vessel, the arrest report lists Mora with a Key Largo residence.

Although FWC officials initially indicated to Keys Weekly that the arrest warrant for Michael Bossert, 52, was confidential as it had not yet been served, the agency learned a day later that Bossert had already turned himself in in late May outside of Monroe County. His last known addresses listed on his warrant were in Marathon and Bonifay, Florida.

According to the pair of arrest warrants, the investigation and charges stem from a video recorded in November 2021 and released by PETA in which Mora appears to rip the mantle – the large bulbous area on top of the animal, known to house many of its internal organs – off a live octopus, tossing the mantle overboard and leaving the rest of the animal to die slowly in a bin.

The same batch of footage also appears to show Bossert removing a small nurse shark from a trap, then slamming it twice against the side of the boat. He then appears to cut the shark into pieces to be used as trap bait. 

“An unidentified voice can be heard in the background of the video saying, ‘Let’s probably not get that on video,’ then later one saying, ‘The F-Dub is going to be after us,’” reads Bossert’s arrest warrant.

The video was recorded by PETA informant Kerin Rosen, who told FWC investigators that she met workers aboard the Marathon-based vessel “Booga Man” as they were unloading their catch by Keys Fisheries. According to the warrants, Rosen told the workers “she was interested in the commercial fishing industry and wanted to learn more about it and asked to go out with them on their boat on November 19, 2021. They agreed to take her along with them … as an observer.”

On board the boat, Rosen began “openly recording,” according to PETA attorney Jared Goodman. The full-length edited video eventually released by PETA was intended to question the practice of removing claws from living stone crabs, as the organization’s attorneys are making a separate case against FWC that the required harvesting practice is illegal and also constitutes animal cruelty.

“We’re certainly glad to see that prosecutors are pursuing this because the scientific evidence shows that octopuses feel pain and are intelligent,” Goodman told Keys Weekly. “They use tools, they recognize human faces, and disemboweling them causes them excruciating pain and is inherently illegal.”

Nurse sharks in Florida must meet a minimum size limit of 54 inches and may only be harvested with hook and line. Though the shark killed in the video also appears to fall short of this requirement and appears to be bycatch – a non-target species caught inadvertently – removed from a trap, Goodman said PETA specifically asked FWC to take action “only on the basis of cruelty to animals.”

Mora faces a third-degree felony charge of aggravated animal cruelty, carrying a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. In addition to his own count of aggravated animal cruelty, Bossert also faces second-degree misdemeanor charges of possession of an undersize nurse shark and failing to land a shark in whole condition.

Bond was set at $10,000 for Mora and $30,000 for Bossert, according to the arrest warrants.
A copy of the footage is at https://investigations.peta.org/florida-stone-crab-claws/. The footage is graphic and may be upsetting to viewers.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.