Download the FWC and marine sanctuary phone apps to know which no-take zones to avoid. CONTRIBUTED

Fishing is serious business in the Florida Keys, but so are fishing violations.

And so they should be, says attorney Drew Sando, a former prosecutor who is now a defense attorney focusing his practice on Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) cases and violations for both recreational and commercial fishing. 

“I formerly worked as a special prosecutor assigned to prosecuting FWC cases and violations,” he said. “Some of the rules can be arbitrary and strange and many people may not know how serious they can become. Actually one of my sources of referrals is from other attorneys, who recommend me as someone competent in these types of cases and in this type of law.”

Sando recently opened an office in Tavernier (by appointment) and is eager to become a part of the community, both on the water and off. He himself is a diver and fisherman who understands and appreciates the critical importance of the Florida Keys’ marine resources and fragile environment.

“Of course you’ll always get bad actors in this area, and repeat offenders who know the rules (or should know the rules), which emphasizes the need for regulations,” he said. “But so many people are first-time offenders with no criminal history. They come down here from other cities, states and even other countries. They may not know whether they’re fishing in the Gulf or Atlantic, the various size regulations, bag limits or even how to measure a fish.”

Attorney Drew Sando specializes in defending clients against FWC violations. CONTRIBUTED

Sando emphasized that “ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it. But there has to be a bit of balance in this regard.”

“I want to build my reputation in this community and help people navigate the law as someone who understands these cases, the laws and violations. I think I offer unique and specialized experience in handling FWC cases that can be of real value to Keys residents and visitors.”

As a former recipient of FWC’s prosecutor of the year award, “I am confident in my knowledge of these types of cases,” he said. “And as a defense lawyer in this unique practice area, I know what facts to look for based on what certain rules and/or statutes require.”

Sando emphasized his respect for FWC officers and the agency as a whole. “Those officers do very good work, and they believe in what they’re doing, and what they do is important. But some of the violations can be more than just a speeding ticket where you pay a fine and walk away. The criminal violations can have serious, real-life implications, and people often don’t know that. Certain violations can even lead to jail time.”

Attorney Drew Sando’s tips before heading out on the water:

DO: Be respectful and polite with FWC officers, even if you disagree with them. You’re being videotaped. 

DON’T: Rely on ignorance as a defense.

DO: Download the fish app on the FWC website and look at the rules. Know where you’re fishing, what’s in season and how big certain species have to be.

DO: Know how to measure a fish properly, including a pinched tail for certain fish and proper lobster measuring devices, especially as mini season approaches.DO: Hire a defense attorney for these types of cases.

Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.