On April 08, 2020 at approximately 01:36 PM, Ofc. Glen Way, Ofc. Martin Messer, and Lt. Josh Peters were patrolling the waters of the Dry Tortugas. While on patrol they witnessed a large white center console vessel at anchor and actively fishing inside the Tortugas North Ecological Reserve of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS). This is a “No Take Area”.
As Officers were approaching the vessel they could see a multitude of Yellowtail Snapper floating on the surface of the water, directly astern of the white center console. It was apparent the occupants of the white center console had dumped these Yellowtail Snapper, attempting to discard and destroy evidence. In total the officers recovered 32 Yellowtail Snapper from the surface of the water. All of the snapper recovered had signs of recently being hooked in their mouths.
After the discarded fish were recovered, FWC officers pulled alongside and conducted a marine resource inspection of the vessel. On the center console and seat of the vessel Officers observed several firearms. Officers located on the deck of the vessel was one spent shotgun round. Officers secured several firearms on the vessel which were recently fired. Officers also noticed was that most of the handguns had empty magazines inside their magazine wells. The vessel was identified as an unnumbered and unregistered 2020, 36’ Yellowfin with three 300hp Outboard Engines. The captain was identified as Mr. Brian James Baugher of Naples, Fl (49 Years of Age).
The occupants Katay Kimoka Soundara, 42, Juan Carlos Rivero of Lehigh Acres, 55, Jerod Alan Edgington, 42, Curtis Walker Smith, 39, Caroline Jane Anderson, 38 and Sean Thomas Anderson, 18. Most are from the Ft. Meyers area.
One of the passengers told Officers that it took them approximately 3 hours to transit from Naples to the Dry Tortugas and that this was their first and only spot they fished due to the Yellowtail bite being so hot.
In total the operator and occupants were found to be in possession of 134 fish which were harvested inside the” No Take” area of Tortugas North Ecological Reserve (FKNMS).
Of the 134 fish, the species were as follows (of legal size unless otherwise indicated):
- 106 Yellowtail Snapper (to include the 32 recovered)
- 3 Dog Snapper
- 1 Lane Snapper
- 1 Mutton Snapper
- 1 Vermillion Snapper (undersize)
Snapper Aggregate Total: 112. Possession of 42 Snapper Over the Bag Limit
- 14 Red Grouper
- 3 Hind Grouper
Grouper Aggregate Total: 17. Possession of Grouper Species during Closed Season
- 3 Grunts
- 1 Margate
- 1 Jack
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the operator and all the occupants were issued Notice to Appears for their criminal violations. They were cited for: Tampering with Evidence (Felony), Interference with an FWC Officer (Misdemeanor), Possession of Over the Bag Limit of Aggregate Snapper (Misdemeanor), Possession of an undersized Vermillion Snapper (Misdemeanor), 17 counts of possession of Out of Season Grouper (Misdemeanor), and fishing inside of the” No Take” area of Tortugas North Ecological Reserve (Misdemeanor). Each person received one Felony Charge and 21 Misdemeanors; a total 7 felonies and 147 Misdemeanors TOTAL.
The owner/ operator, Mr. Brian James Baugher, was also issued a Federal Notice of Violation and Assessment for violating the following provisions of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act: 15CFR922.163(4)(i) Discharging or depositing of materials (firearm projectiles) within the boundary of the Sanctuary, 15CFR922.164(d)(v) Anchoring in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, and 15CFR922.164(d)(viii) Entering the Tortugas North area of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve without a valid access permit.
The Monroe County State Attorney’s Office will be consulted in reference to the violation of the Monroe County Emergency Directive; Monroe County is closed to visitors.