MONROE COUNTY, Fla. – The U.S. Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission personnel seized 11 shark fins and dismembered sharks Monday that were found aboard a 40-foot commercial fishing boat near South Sound Creek, Coast Guard officials announced Tuesday in a news release.
Authorities said an FWC officer first spotted the boat, dubbed Miss Shell, off South Sound Creek because of its improper display of navigation lights.
Authorities said they found 11 shark fins and dismembered sharks aboard the boat. The boat was then escorted to Port Largo. The catch was seized and handed over to NOAA officials Tuesday.
Federal law has prohibited the act of shark finning -- a process of removing shark fins at sea and discarding the rest of the shark -- since 2000.
"This case is a great example of interagency coordination to stop illegal fishing and allows for efficient enforcement of the commercial fishing fleet in the waters surrounding the Florida Keys," said Petty Officer 1st Class Rich Steidell, of Coast Guard Station Islamorada. "Our marine resources are extremely valuable to the public and our nation. Boaters and fishermen are reminded to familiarize themselves with the fishing regulations to make sure they are complying with federal law."
Authorities said the operator of the boat faces numerous violations, including failure to maintain a shark in its proper form and failure to maintain naturally attached shark fins through off-loading.
Authorities said the detached shark fins will be sent to a laboratory for testing to determine the species of the origin. The operator of the boat could then face further charges, such as possession of a prohibited species.
"Our partnerships with the Coast Guard and NOAA are valuable assets for the effective enforcement of both federal and state fisheries regulations, which are in place to ensure the availability of this important resource for future generations," said Maj. Alfredo Escanio, FWC South Region Bravo regional commander.
"It's a natural partnership to work with the Coast Guard and FWC," said a NOAA spokesperson on Tuesday. "This is a significant case with significant violations. Sharks are vital to the natural balance of our ecosystems, and NOAA works with our partnering agencies to ensure the health and sustainability of the species."
The investigation remains ongoing. The identity of the operator of the boat has not been released.