MARATHON, Fla. – James Platt, who owns the Marathon Crab and Lobster Company, has lived in the Florida Keys his whole life.
He is one of the many commercial fishermen who make a living catching lobster and other delicacies from the ocean.
“I have a couple of kids myself, all my crew guys have two, three, four - one of my guys has six kids,” Platt said. “So there’s a lot of people that rely on this boat and this business to put food on the table.”
But on Sept. 4th around 6 p.m., the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said an undercover officer spotted a man and woman on a personal watercraft in the area of East Bahia Honda near Marathon, pulling up eight of Platt’s traps and stealing the lobster from inside.
Most of the lobster were undersized, according to FWC.
Yenier Rojas and Claudia Beatriz Rojas Fernandez were each charged with felony trap molesting, possession of 23 undersized spiny lobster, over the bag limit of spiny lobster and possession of three out of season stone crab claws.
“These people are just out here to poach,” said officer Robert Dube.
Dube said his agency frequently arrests people for crimes including commercial trap thefts and poaching undersized or out-of-season marine life.
“You’re taking money from the commercial lobstermen down here that are trying to make a living, and it’s a very hard living,” he said.
Industry experts say poaching not only means a financial loss for fishermen but taking undersized and female lobsters can strip the ecosystem of future generations of them.
Monroe County State Attorney Dennis ward says his office aggressively prosecutes marine and fisheries cases and imposes harsh penalties on convicted offenders.
“We’ve put people in prison,” Ward said. “There are 1,600 families that depend on the lobster and baitfish and stone crabs. And people that come down here and rob their traps and even come to take undersized lobster and undersized stone crab and fish - we’re seeking jail time.”
Platt said he learned his traps were burglarized when FWC officers knocked on his door the following day, and is thankful arrests were made.
“We know it goes on, and to be quite honest, it’s something we deal with on a pretty regular basis,” he said.
Ward encourages anyone with information about marine crimes to call FWC.