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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Jupiter Shark Diving Crew Convicted for Stealing Fishing Gear

MIAMI – A boat crew offering tourists the opportunity to swim with sharks took a pause between dives to steal a commercial fishing gear set. Now the captain and mate each face up to five years in prison.

Convicted by a jury in West Palm Beach, Fla., for the theft of commercial fishing gear in federal waters, defendants John R. Moore Jr., 56, of West Palm Beach and Tanner J. Mansell, 29, of Jupiter, Fla., ran their business from Jupiter Inlet, Fla.

In August 2020 Moore and Mansell, both licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry passengers for hire on uninspected vessels, operated a vessel with six tourists to swim with sharks in the federal waters off Jupiter Inlet. On this date they were carrying a police chief and his family, visiting tourists from the Midwest, and two other tourists. After their first dive of the day and enroute to a second dive spot, the crew saw a large orange buoy which was the marker for a commercial fishing gear set. That buoy was clearly marked with the vessel name as required by federal law. Video taken by the tourists clearly showed the markings.

Despite Moore’s history as a former commercial fisherman, he and Mansell told their passengers that this was an illegal, abandoned “ghost set” and duped the passengers into assisting in retrieving a lengthy section of the line. They released any catch on the hooks and stowed more than three miles of monofilament line, weights, gagnions, and the marker buoy on the deck of their boat. The passengers took videos and still photos which established that this activity extended for more than three hours and resulted in the loss of at least 19 sharks to the fishermen and vessel owner.

After engaging in the illegal conduct for approximately an hour and a half, Moore called state enforcement officers and gave an inaccurate statement of what was seen and found at the buoy site. He claimed he’d found an illegal shark fishing long-line and that he observed entangled lemon sharks, leading to his efforts to cut them free. He never mentioned that the line was attached to a properly marked buoy. The state officer advised Moore to cease his activities pending an investigation.

On the way to place the tourists ashore, Mansell hopped aboard a second outbound dive boat to act as a crewman. He took the fishing line with him and continued the illegal interference and theft of the commercial gear.

A Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission officer (FWC) observed Moore entering the Inlet and stopped the boat. On a video clip of that encounter, Moore explained that the line was a shark long-line set and asserted it was an illegal fishing operation. Photos and videos shot by the passengers over the lengthy period of criminal conduct showed the marked orange buoy repeatedly. However, when the FWC officer took his own photos of the line and gear on Moore’s vessel, the buoy which would have established the obvious legality of the shark fishing effort was gone. The officer also noted that all the gear retrieved by Moore and Mansell appeared brand new, with fresh bait on the hooks, and no rust as would be evident with abandoned fishing gear. Moore was advised to leave the gear on the dock as the officer would collect it later as evidence.

Despite directions from the FWC officer, Moore did not wait at the dock or secure the evidence. Instead, he scavenged the line for the hooks, attachments, and weights and allowed others on the dock to take the rest of the hardware connected to the main line. Moore and Mansell were present when the line was loaded into a cart and the cut-up line placed in a dumpster. The activity on the pier was captured by surveillance cameras.

Evidence at trial established that the gear alone cost the vessel owner approximately $1,300 and the value of the lost sharks amounted to several thousand dollars, which represented a significant portion of the income that would be paid to the fishermen.

In addition to potential prison time, Moore and Mansell may be fined up to $250,000. Additionally, they may be ordered to pay restitution to their victims.

Juan Antonio Gonzalez, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Manny Antonaras, Assistant Director of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement (OLE), Southeast Division, made the announcement.

This case was investigated by NOAA-OLE, Southeast Division, with assistance from FWC. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald is prosecuting the case.

If you have any information regarding this investigation, or other wildlife crimes, you may contact the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964 and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at (800) 344-9453. Locally, environmental crimes, including wildlife violations and environmental justice matters may be reported to the U.S. Attorney’s Office at 305-961-9001 or USFLS.Environmental@usdoj.gov.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or at http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov,  

Topic(s): 
Wildlife
Contact: 
Public Affairs Unit U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Florida USAFLS.News@usdoj.gov
Updated December 6, 2022