The artificial habitat where lobster were being harvested. FWC/Contributed

On July 29, at approximately 12:34hrs, Lt. Joshua Peters of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was on-duty and on water patrol. He was patrolling in an unmarked patrol vessel equipped with blue lights and siren. He was wearing my division issued uniform. He was patrolling Key Haven Basin, inside Gulf of Mexico Waters of Monroe County, Florida. This area is also inside the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

While on patrol he witnessed two vessels at anchor atop a known and previously documented site of artificial habitat. This site was thoroughly documented with photographs and video during Operation “Bugging Out”.   He approached the vessels and witnessed several occupants from both vessels’ actively harvesting Florida Spiny Lobster from the Artificial Habitat. Lt. Peters ordered everyone in the water back to their respective vessel’s and conducted a marine fisheries inspection.

The inspection revealed that the two vessels were owned and operated by Coastal Outfitters Inc. of Tavernier. In total they had 11 paid passengers amongst the two boats, 8 of which were actively harvesting from the artificial habitat. The Captains were identified as Donald Wayne Webb Jr. of Tavernier and Thomas Salvatore Giamo of Homestead, Fl. Mr. Giamo did not have a valid USCG Merchant Mariner Credential with him at the time of the boarding. He told the Lieutenant he had forgot it. On July 31, 2020, Lt. Peters contacted USCG Sector Key West and verified Mr. Giamo does not have a Merchant Mariner Credential.

Interviews of the harvesters/occupants were conducted in which they admitted that all of the Florida Spiny Lobsters on board the two vessels were harvested from this artificial habitat.  The harvesters/ occupants stated they had no idea it was illegal to harvest lobster from artificial habitat. They said they had booked a charter to take them on a lawful trip because they were not from here and did not know all of the rules and regulations. Being that the occupants had booked the commercial charter to take them to legally harvest Florida Spiny Lobster, and because the occupants that were harvesting Florida Spiny Lobster from artificial habitat where doing so under the direction, care, and control of Mr. Giamo and Mr. Webb of Coastal Outfitters Inc., Mr. Giamo and Mr. Webb meet the criteria established in F.S.  777.011 which states: Principal in first degree.—Whoever commits any criminal offense against the state, whether felony or misdemeanor, or aids, abets, counsels, hires, or otherwise procures such offense to be committed, and such offense is committed or is attempted to be committed, is a principal in the first degree and may be charged, convicted, and punished as such, whether he or she is or is not actually or constructively present at the commission of such offense.

The two vessels were in possession of 39 Florida Spiny Lobster, all of which were harvested from Artificial Habitat in violation of 68B-24.006 (12), which states: No person shall harvest any spiny lobster from artificial habitat. The harvest and possession in the water of spiny lobster in excess of the recreational bag limit is hereby prohibited within 10 yards of artificial habitat. 68B-24.002 (1) Defines “Artificial habitat” as any material placed in the waters of the state that is reasonably suited to providing cover and habitat for spiny lobster. Such material may be constructed of, but is not limited to, wood, metal, fiberglass, concrete, or plastic, or any combination thereof, and may be fabricated for this specific purpose or for some other purpose. The term does not include fishing gear allowed by rule of the Commission, legally permitted structures, or artificial reef sites constructed pursuant to permits issued by the United States Army Corps of Engineers or by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Mr. Giamo and Mr. Webb were issued Notices to Appear for their misdemeanor violations. The case package will be forwarded to a Coast Guard Investigator Service Special Agent in regard to Mr. Giamo of Coastal Outfitters Inc conducting charters without the appropriate Merchant Mariner Credentials.

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