Florida Lobster Fisherman Pleads Guilty to Illegal Harvesting Activities
Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and M. L. Goodro, Superintendent of Biscayne National Park announced that Alfredo Sardinas-Garcia, 43, of Miami, pled guilty yesterday to violating the Lacey Act by illegally harvesting spiny lobster in violation of the laws and regulations applicable to the waters of Biscayne National Park.
According to the court record, including the Joint Factual Statement agreed to by the parties, and statements in Court, the “SILVITA” is a Florida commercial fishing vessel, owned and operated by defendant Deep Atlantic, Inc. Sardines-Garcia was employed by Deep Atlantic, Inc., as the master in charge of the day-to-day operations and fishing activities of the vessel.
On August 22, 2018, at 3:25 p.m., the SILVITA was within the boundaries of Biscayne National Park when it was boarded and inspected by National Park Service Officers. Sardinas-Garcia was the captain of the vessel, which had concluded commercial fishing for the day and was returning to the dock. The vessel held a Special Product License and Crawfish Endorsement, issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, allowing it to conduct lobstering activities under Florida law, including in Biscayne National Park and for the saltwater products harvested to be sold commercially.
A holding pen/live well full of live spiny lobster was in plain view on the vessel. Measurement of the whole lobster revealed that 28 were less than the legally required carapace length of 3 inches. Examination of other compartments on the vessel, revealed a red bag containing wrung spiny lobster tails, hidden in the forwarded bulkhead area, underneath life jackets. The bag contained 231 wrung spiny lobster tails, of which 209 were undersized, and 2 egg-bearing wrung lobster tails. The inspection also revealed 22 Florida stone crab claws on the vessel. This saltwater product was illegally possessed due to the closure of the harvesting season on May 16, 2018 until October 15, 2018.
The Lacey Act makes it unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States (Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(1) and 3373(d)(1)(B)). It is illegal under the laws and regulations of Florida to possess wrung lobster tails on a vessel while on the waters of the State; to possess egg-bearing spiny lobster; and to possess undersized spiny lobster (Florida Administrative Code, Sections 68B-24.003(4), (1) and 24.007(1)). Federal regulations mandate that fishing in National Park waters must be conducted in accordance with the laws and regulations of the State within which the boundaries of the Park are located (Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 2.3(a)). The waters of Biscayne National Park are within the waters of the State of Florida.
Sardinas-Garcia faces a possible prison term of up to five years, followed by a three-year period of supervised release. Additionally, he faces a potential criminal fine of up to $250,000. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. Williams on February 7, 2019, at 2:00 p.m. in Miami.
The case against the co-defendant, Deep Atlantic-Inc., a Florida-based corporation is pending before the Court. An information is merely an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan commended the investigative efforts of the National Park Service Officers at Biscayne National Park who led the investigation into the illegal harvesting of the spiny lobster and other marine resources. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald of the Economic & Environmental Crimes Section and Alison Lehr of the Asset Forfeiture Section.