PLANTATION KEY, February 6, 2020 – A Georgia man who harvested 10 queen conchs, which is illegal in Florida, off Islamorada was ordered to jail after pleading out in the case against him.
On February 5, Turner Rentz, 54, of Marietta pleaded no contest to 10 counts of possessing the conchs in 2017. Monroe County Judge Sharon Hamilton sentenced him to two days in the Monroe County jail followed by a year of probation, during which he is not allowed to be on or in Monroe County waters. He was fined $500 and ordered to pay $323 in investigatory, court and prosecution costs; must perform 40 hours of community service; and must take a state-approved marine-resources education course.
Assistant state attorneys Jorge Jaile and Paul Vargo represented the state and sought 180 days in jail, noting Rentz showed no remorse and gave marine officers conflicting stories for why he took the conch.
Queen conchs, which can live up to 40 years, were once plentiful in the Florida Keys but the state outlawed their harvest in the 1970s due to a collapse in the fishery.
The evening of July 26, 2017, Officer Joshua Arbogast with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was aboard a U.S. Coast Guard boat with a Guard crew patrolling the area of Indian Key Pass on the oceanside. They saw Rentz’s 22-foot saiIboat coming from the direction of Indian Key and decided to perform a vessel inspection.
As they approached Rentz’s boat, they saw it was taking on water and partially sunk in the rear, and could see Rentz and his son bailing water. When they reached it, they tied off to Rentz’s boat and he and his son boarded the Guard boat. That’s when Arbogast saw the 10 queen conchs, alive, on Rentz’s boat.
Rentz told Arbogast he and his children had come down to collect conchs and other shells. They had no plans to eat the meat, but rather were going to drill holes in the shells to remove the animals and wanted the shells to display around his house as decorations, he said. But he later told officers he wanted to use the conchs as tools to educate others about the ocean.
The Coast Guard towed his boat to Indian Key Fill, where his trailer was, and the vessel was removed from the water. Rentz was then taken to Coast Guard Station Islamorada, where he was charged. The conchs were returned to the water alive.