KEY WEST, December 9, 2019 – A Key West commercial fisherman headed to jail, can’t ply his trade for half a year and received numerous other penalties after pleading out December 4 to dozens of counts of possessing undersized lobster.
Mario Morales, 67, entered a straight-up plea to 41 counts of possessing undersized lobsters, plus one count each of interfering with a conservation officer, possession of wrung lobster tail on the water (considered a major violation) and having an improperly marked stone crab trap. Assistant State Attorney Nick Trovato represented the state.
Monroe County Judge Peary Fowler adjudicated Morales guilty on all counts and sentenced him to 90 days in the Monroe County Detention Center; suspended his Saltwater Products License for six months; put him on probation for 12 months; fined him $1,000; ordered him to pay $273 in court costs, $50 for the cost of prosecution, $40 for the cost of investigation and $100 for his public defender; ordered him to pay $500 into the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund; and imposed 50 hours of community service.
FWC officers Martin Messier and Glen Way were on patrol around 12:25 p.m. November 11, 2017, in Lakes Passage (Gulf of Mexico waters) off Key West when they saw Morales’ boat, Virginia, and saw him pulling stone crabs from a trap. As they approached for a marine-fisheries inspection, they saw Morales dumping a bucket of wrung lobster tails overboard. Messier ordered him to stop but he continued, then rinsed out the bucket.
When the officers boarded his boat, they found a stone crab trap with a number on it not assigned to Morales. They continued their inspection and in the hatch (which was nailed shut and had to be pried open), they found another bucket with 41 undersized and wrung lobster tails.
A lobster’s tail cannot be wrung (separated) from its body while the harvester is on the water; lobsters must be brought back to land in whole condition. When the tail is separated from the body on land, it must be greater than 5.5 inches.
While Messier and Way escorted Morales’ boat to shore to take him to jail, he urinated in a bucket and poured it overboard, so he was also cited for discharging raw sewage into the water.