Stuck by the Law After Spearing Snook

Ever wonder what happens when you call in a probable fisheries violation?
Well, here’s a closeup look at a real case that may result in real consequences.

At approximately 10:30 a.m., on Thursday, June 16, anglers in a small boat south of St. Lucie Inlet called the Florida Sportsman Magazine office to report a possible case of snook spearfishing. They’d seen a diver emerge from the water with a big snook. . . on the end of a spear. . . during the closed season. . . within St. Lucie Inlet State Park, where spearfishing is prohibited.

It was a veritable grand slam of snook fishing violations.

We relayed the report, and the reporter’s cell phone number, to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) South Region Jupiter office (we found the number at myfwc.com, but *FWC on a cellular phone also works).

I also called the Martin County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit… but it turned out the FWC called them, too. The state’s main fish and wildlife enforcement division is geared up to work with different agencies in times of need, and this happened to be one of them.

Martin County Sheriff Sgt. Donald Plant was sitting inside Manatee Pocket, literally seconds from St. Lucie Inlet. He was aboard his agency’s brand-new 28-foot rigid hull inflatable when he got two phone calls, the first from FS, and moments later, the FWC.

“They transferred the call from Fish and Wildlife, about a vessel off Peck Lake observed spearfishing. I told them I already knew about it; I was ready to put down the throttles.”

At the same time, FWC Lt. Van Streety was just leaving his home in Palm Beach Gardens, some 20 miles south of St. Lucie Inlet.

“I got the call from our dispatch center,” said Streety, who is the supervising lieutenant for the five FWC Martin County officers. “Our FWC officer was off-shift for a dental appointment. I said I would find a Palm Beach officer who could head north from Jupiter Inlet, and that I would go to Sandsprit Park, and try to run a tag with the FL numbers the original caller had provided.”

“Then Sheriff Sgt. Donald Plant called me to say, ‘We have definite violations,’ and I said to escort the vessel to the boat ramp.”

Based on the original caller’s description of a blue cabin cruiser with three divers on board, Sgt. Plant had intercepted the 25-foot vessel south of St. Lucie Inlet.

“I tried to approach the boat from the bow, taking it easy,” he said. “I didn’t want to spook them. Then I hit the blue lights right at the end.”

Plant said the vessel occupants “were cooperative.” He took from them two dead snook and two spearguns, and instructed them to proceed to Sandsprit Park.

At 12:30 p.m. at the Sandsprit boat ramp, an FS photographer (that would be me…) showed up on scene, followed by FWC Lt. Streety, and within about 15 minutes, the FWC patrol boat from Jupiter.

Not a good day to be on the wrong side of the law.

Streety boarded the Martin Sheriff vessel, which Plant had moored alongside the 25-foot cabin cruiser. He inspected the two fish (one clearly oversize) and the spearfishing gear. Then he addressed the three men, who were still aboard their vessel, tied up the dock. One of them had already identified himself as the trigger-man.

“What’s your understanding of the situation here?” Streety asked, hands clasped in front of him.

The men responded—and I paraphrase–that they had failed to fully read the fisheries laws.

Streety went on to remind the men, sternly but politely, of the laws and the charges one of them would now face. He even suggested the appropriate way to fillet snook, taking off the soapy-flavored skin, when the season is open. And of course, no spearing snook—not in the park, not anywhere in Florida.

I was standing right there, and the guys Streety was addressing struck me as more oblivious than malicious; not organized midnight poachers. Still, Streety and Plant, both armed, stuck together.

Unfortunately for the hapless divers, they wouldn’t be keeping their catch; Streety would have it destroyed.
“What’s this going to cost me?” the man charged asked.

“That’ll be up to a judge,” Streety said. “Sometimes education is expensive.”

Not one to pass up a chance, I walked over and talked to the three divers. I asked the man charged how he felt about his actions.
“I did a stupid mistake,” he said.
“You out here a lot?” I asked.
This was his first day out, diving with family members, he said. He’d moved here from New York, one year ago.
“How did you feel about how the officers handled the situation?”
“They treated me great, treated me with respect,” he said.

I spoke with Streety again, after he’d finished the investigation. He’d given the man I spoke with–a resident of Pt. St. Lucie–a notice to appear in court, with a copy of the citation: Two charges, possession of snook out of season, and illegal method of harvest, spearfishing.

“Martin County Sheriff’s marine squad isn’t the same agency, but we do work together quite often, to ensure the boating public is safe, and the resources of the state are looked after,” said Streety.

“When members of the public call, if a possible violation is still in progress, the dispatch is immediate. But it’s paramount that we’ve established good working relationship with other jurisdictions. They call us quite often, too.”

“If everybody out there is ignorant but apologetic, we’d still have a big resource problem.”

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  • David

    They could and should lose their boat and all gear associated with the trip.

    • Michael

      I totally agree. Ignorance is no excuse. Now if we could also focus on all the yo-yo fisherman down here in Miami killing and taking home whatever they can possibly get, I'll be happy.

    • Johnathan

      Thats a little overboard don't ya think? Ignorance of the law is a little different than purposely ignoring the law. I am sure the fine will be more than enough to make them read the rules

    • davidscott

      Only repeat offenders should be subject to losing some equipment or big fines. Nobody should lose their boat over a couple of fish. If we want those sort of draconian penalties then we need to make it mandatory that all fisherman need to take a course focusing on regulations, statutes, and penalties before they can purchase a fishing license. It's the commercial fisherman that are out there 7 days a week fishing for a living that are hitting the stocks hard. The guy that fishes half a dozen times per year and takes a few fish each trip (if he's lucky) is not the problem as far as conservation is concerned.

  • Brett

    I agree with the citations; however, it would have been nice for the fish to be donated to a shelter such as a womans center rather than destroying them.

  • David

    The system works. . . .and that is good for all of us. Thanks FWC and all agencies who are out there on our behalf. You do a great job.

  • Bert

    Bert

    I definitely agree with protecting our resources and that everyone should read up and memorize all the boating and fishing regulations/laws before hitting the water. I do not feel that their boat and equipment should be taken from them for their first offense. They did say that they have only lived in Florida for a year. If the boat is involved in the same violation for a second time no matter who the captain may be, then strip them of all their belongings!!! I agree, the fish should have been given to charity. I could definitly see a couple FWC officers having those snooks for dinner. FWC will destroy the fish, YA RIGHT! Commercial fisherman legally commit a greater damage to our ocean resources on a daily basis but our state turns their heads and ears when it comes to that topic. It's all about penalizing us non-commercial fisherman and cashing in on the big business of commercial fishing.

    • Carey

      Best Post so far!

    • Shane

      Well said Cap'n.Ignorance is not an excuse!!!

  • chris jones

    That was a good job done by agencies that worked together and that there was a unit on the water at the time offense. On the donating part will that doesn't happen anymore.The places that use to take wildlife is not aloud , by other state agencies due to health reasons. About the officers eating the fish or any type of contraband..is a big fat NO GO .. that's the same thing as taking illegal drugs and the officer using them . its a criminal violation for the officer to keep contraband…no matter if its fish or marijuana

    • MIKE

      Yea because thats never happend.

  • John

    I think the FWC does their job as required. If they didn't why have the laws. I'm from N.Y. and have been here 38 years and went back to salmon fish one year. We were in Paulski at a bridge in town and the game wardens were in a vacant building watching with binoculars and said the guy I was with caught a salmon but not in the mouth. That was a lie because as he landed it, I grabbed it and it was hooked in the mouth. Then, they gave the fish to a local kid and took him (us) to the local judge and paid a $100.00 fine or he could have paid to come back at a later date to contest it. We knew how that would have gone. Need I say more.

  • Jerry

    I think I would informed them that they had taken the Snook illegally and then if they copped an attitude, called the authorities.

    • NowBot

      Hope someone posts the results of the case. Great job FS for detailing this situation.

  • Geo

    Ignorance is no excuse for the law.

    • Jay littlefeather

      did you mean ignorance of the law is not an excuse?

  • Alaska Eddie

    I think the whole size limits, closed seasons and fishing licenses is is a major bunch of bull crap , it just a way for state idiot politicians to tax and and jackasses evo nuts to work thier way into the FWC and regulations boards.

    I;ve lived in Florida for 40 years and fished 98% from shore Ive caight maybe 10 snook in that time and kept 2 to eat. f a man goes out and buys a fishing rod and reel and the tackle etc and fishes to feed his family ( thats a Gods given right and NO A–Hole should have the right to tell him his fish is to smal or big to keep, its the wrong time of the year to be catching them etc. Dont get me wrong if your not going to eat em throw em back but if its a way for a man to provide for his family then screw the FWC and all the jackasses on the council that are regulating fishing right out of existance( which is there goal ) Just like the red snapper are depleted! yeah right go out in deep water you cant get buy them ,Boo Hoo all the snook were killed during the freeze, bull shit! Now these morons are trying to screw us in the grouper fisheries, You pay good money for a boat , you spend $300 for gas bait tackle and go out and catch 50 shorts and bring one keeper back , Just another way politicians are sticking thier shit for brains opinions in peoples lives. I fish in a Bass management lake locally, really bass mangement, my ass. I catch many bass that have bellies that are inverted because theres not enough forgae fish to keep them fat and healty. I wouldnt keep em any way , I've had plenty people ask me for em to eat and I say sorry fish management lake, and they all say what the hell is that ???

    I caught a snook and a couple seen me throew it back they asked why, I sdaid out of season, the next day i went back there was 13 of them fishing my spot for snook to KEEP!

    Its all about the money nothing more and the eco nuts too!

    • Erik

      I feel your frustration too. I understand the conservation point of view but it's gone overboard. I'm flat tired of throwing fish back!

    • GulfWarrior

      Hmmm…..ever wonder why you catch 50 shorts and one keeper?

      As far as the 13 people fishing your snook hole, when they took one and stringered it you should have called FWC and let the game warden tell them the citation they were getting was for keeping Snook out of season.

    • Bryant

      thats some of the dumbest crap i have heard…i wish it could be just keep wut you need and throw back the rest, but with the number of people who fish nowadays if everyone had that attitude, people would take advantage of it and the fish would be greatly depleted. a good fisherman should be able to go catch a few fish species that are in season and in the size limit any time of year, even from shore.

    • Danwithwords

      I'm having my 35 cuban relatives staying with me for a week every month for the rest of my life. I'm going to have all of us floating around catching all snook all year. By your logic, every fisherman had any right to catch any amount of fish, and day they're feeding family. We're all gods children. One big family. You're dumb.

    • Dan in Sarasota

      if youve lived in florida for 40 years, then you know it takes at least 3 years for snook to get to breeding age and up to 8 years for some to start spawning. its ignorant people like you who destroy the fisheries.

    • FLAngling

      Hey, Eddie. These regulations age in place because of the low quantity of fish (specific species) here in South Florida. Fish of a certain size/age are the breeders. Without them, we have insufficient amounts to maintain the sport we love so dearly. You should have called the law on all 13 of those bastards.

    • john

      you couldn't be more ignorant. truly breathtaking stuff right here. my only hope is that the next generation is a little more informed.

    • here fishy :]

      People like you don't think about future anglers. Call me an ECO NUT, but it beats ignorance. Without regs. you have mayhem. Maybe you should consider Alaska….Eddie.

  • Chris

    Give me a break…all these resources for a weekend warrior and 1 and a half fish…and ya, take thier boat???!!…..ok take your car away for speeding or for illegal parking. How quick we are to judge when its someone else!!

    • Shane

      I agree Chris, People are so quick to judge, (someone else), but let them do something that is a bit shady and oh man he world is wronging them for what ever happens to them as a result. Makes me sick. People use a little common sense and maybe even some compassion. We shouldn't try so hard to condemn those around us.

  • Jonathan

    I think FWC should do more at the boat ramps in the morning to stop this kind of stuff hand outs and a reminder we will see you on the water. keep up the good work

    • barrell

      Im all for obeying whatever seasons or limits are in force at the time but the FWC needs to do a better job of educating the public on their website. They are never up to date. When black seabass closed in the spring there website still said they were open. Same with red snapper. FWC doesnt post flyers in the tackle shops nor do a very good job on their website when there is a sudden regulation change.

  • LouV

    Unfortunately this happens far too often, not only spearfishing but by boat fishermen. During the winter Spanish mackerel run, on any given day you will find non-commercial boats taking undersized and way over limit mackerel, most of which will probably end up in the trash. Stupidity, lack of respect for the environment and the limited resources, and a just don't give a dam attitude is unfortunately the rule, rather then the exception today.

    • fatsnook13

      im 13 i caught redfish trout tarpon but no snook and i dont want thoes loosers dooing that or else im not gooing to cetch a snook. fishing is in my blood and when people do that it makes me sad. i want to be a fishing guide but i cant become a fishing guide if people over fish Florida. shout out to FS i love your show.

  • Roby

    I am a native of Stuart, and this garbage makes me sick. I am an avid angler and spearo.

  • Alex

    They should take their boats and gear just for being New Yorkers.

    • Fishkilla

      What if they were Floridian red-necks, what do you suggest their penalties should be? Hah alex???!!

      • here fishy :]

        Do you actually Know the definition of Red-Neck ? I didn't think so !!!

  • Chris

    Some of you are right, the commercial fishing industry is the root of all of our recreational anglers heartburn. If the state would recognize that the recreational fishing industry produces four billion dollars of incremental revenue to the state's bottom line they would eliminate or at least curtail the commercial industry and that would mean more fish for us all. As far as the near shore species like snook, there has to be regulations to protect their reproductive stocks. I have lived in Florida for 25 years and have seen poor management choices and good choices, (like redfish) but limiting the commercial industry and reducing the spear fishing limits to two fish no matter what the species will help all hook and line anglers. It sucks spending a fortune on a boat, gas, bait, and now a license to catch fish and have to resort to catching baracuda and jacks instead of grouper and snapper.

    • fatsnook13

      PLEAS STOP BUYING COMMERCIAL FISH . If we stop buying commercial fish and catch our own bait commercial fishing industry will end.

  • Chris

    Without rules there's chaos

  • Doug

    As a native to the area having grown up in Jupiter and a resident of Stuart since 1972, I hear and view the majority of these remarks as a devided group. This much like how our political system of Rep/Dem. Whats really missing here is common sence. Obviously if you make rules then you expect them to be supported. They don't have enough enforment officers and if it goes in front of a judge the penalty is too harsh also. I do not hear anyone here mention about the real destruction to our fisheries and that is from the SFWM dumping fresh water into our Indian River Lagoon which is a super NOVA of sea life that they continually kill. Ever ask where is the SEA GRASS? I understand why people would spear snook, there hard to catch and especially in a 4" limit. Its pure BS.

    I understand why netting was banned I remember a day in the early 70's when they took everything in our rivers, I surely remember the day I ran over one redneck's sein net….There must have been 1/4 mile of it out there….They and the SFWM and Army Corp's of Engineers have caused us great destruction. Don't forget our river used to be clear blue water. This told to me by the Grandson of the First Major of Stuart.

    • Kevin

      If you want to comment about the water clarity then you need to look at agriculture and the golf industry, not SFWM and the Corp. Ever looked in a pond on a golf course? That's what our springs are gonna look like in a year or two.

  • Gary

    " I didnt know.. the law" BS! When was the last time you killed something to eat and did not know it was eatable. If you knew Snook was good to eat… you knew the rules. The fine for 25 mph over the speed limit is a about $300. I would say they were 500 mph over… I hope the fines reflect the crimes.

    Be advised our resources are controlled by our elected officials. Our elected officials are controlled by commercial interests.

    The flow of water from the Lake can not go south as it historically did since that land is now controlled by commercial interests. The flow of water into the River is controlled by Army Corps who are controlled by elected officials….. who are controlled by corporate interests.

    The SFWMD is trying to find ways to clean the water and send the water elsewhere. However our elected officials decided to reduce there funding by 1/3 so they could say they reduced your taxes $25 so you will relect them so they can continue to help the commercial interests.

    The fishing/boating industry in FL generates 7 Billion a year to our economy, but we do not have a focused voice. Thus elected officials ignore us.

    If you enjoy our river and oceans, you should respect and support laws that protect them for future generations and vote for elected officials that support a balanced approach to commerce and natural resource management.

  • E. Pirb

    Ramp checks. Coming in and going out. Saves FWC boat-operating costs, stops the PFD-less idiots putting in, nails the poachers coming out. I've been fishing minimum 4 days a week from the same ramps for over ten years and haven't seen a single check performed yet. Idiots with absolutely no lights launching (and running) at 5AM, it's like a combination of the Special Olympics and a demolition derby out there. Ramp checks!

  • The Old Pirate

    All these comments make me realize, as a spear fisherman, how lucky I was to get away with my 52 lb snook, and also, my 46 lb snook, and also, my 42 lb snook. Rass mon, I is gettin ole. I forgit I was in Panama.

  • Ralph

    This was handled very well by the law enforcement officers. Very professionally done.

  • Eddie. Ray

    If everyone followed the rules,we would not need the police. I'm sure if that guy had taken snook dozens of times he would have said so! . Poachers stink,when I see them,call the law. If I have to follow them,to make sure they get caught so be it. I follow the rules,and everyone else should have to! If you let these yo-yos go ,they will destroy the fisheries and everything else too,

  • recondelta54

    what really hurts the fishing is the commercial fishermen they take pretty much everything & throw back the smaller fish & not to mention the thousands of juvenile fish,along with detroying the very things that create the fishing grounds reproduction areas.why is it that the commercial fisherman can buy a lic. & keep hundreds of fish when we buy a lic. spend thousands of dallars every year but are limited to only a few,seems like double standards to me & who's lining whos' pocketsbut hasn't that always been how it is do as we say not as we do why is it that people that spend more get away with more its WRONG

  • scott

    thats a new yorker for ya. they think our laws dont apply to them. its the same on our roads.

  • mayhem

    i was in pecks lake park with my son. when 3 divers got in the water with spears. i called fwc and gave them fl #s . after a while they got out of the water one of them speared 10lb amberjack they took a picture then threw it back in the water. over an hour after i called fwc i called again. they said on the way. so i headed to the ramp. i put my boat on the trailer rinse it.as im leaving i see fwc 2 hours 25 minutes after i made the call. and he still had 5 minutes to get the park. i guess they were not to concerned that people were killing fish for a picture. in a state park.

  • Capt Stuart Local

    AHH this must be the 1 of a 1000 calls they actually responded to. Ive called a few times on people spearfishing snook, commercial guys taking everything in their nets including pompano and redfish, commercial guys flying across the sailfish flats, people at the sandpile and bullshark barge taking to many cobia, dead or hurt manatees. I call the FWC and or the Jupiter office directly and they never respond or if they do its too late or its 1-2 hours later. When night time fishing ive seen boats load up on snook and those commercial guys setting up gillnets late in midnight hours. The MCSO usually comes by but they drive by, look around, and they never do anything if its during normal hours. Ive seen the FWC sitting at Sandsprint park in their trucks and never get out to look at peoples catch or in there boats. I believe the FWC and local law enforcement needs to be more proactive about fisheries laws instead of playing in their trucks or playing with their new radar guns to catch people going over 25mph in the ICW. come on for real do what your supposed to do…preserve,protect,and serve!

  • Captain Kevin

    I have found the FWC web site to be very informitive and always up to date. And the morning of my fishing trip I make sure I print off a currant copy of the Regs to have with me.

  • capt bo

    need to go back to new yark and swin with the fin less browns in all there waters because they do not understand conservation . simple as that Capt Bo left coast

  • skinneej

    Saying that they should "lose their boat" is just plain rediculous. There are literally hundreds of fishing laws on the water now, and people break them unintentionally all the time. It's so damn hard to keep up with sometimes. I would be willing to bet a LARGE SUM of money that if you gave a test to all of the LEO's out there on the water, that covered all of the saltwater fishing laws that MOST of them would NOT get 100% on the test. Should we fire them too? I know this for a fact. I have had to educate LEO's several times when they ask me for permits and such that I didn't need. I even had to help them identify certain species before.

    I personally got pulled over once in SC and an officer hopped on and measured every last one of our fish. We were perfect – NO game violations! But, that didn't stop him from giving me a ticket for having an expired boat registration. Didn't even realize it until he pointed it out! 1 month out of registration.

    Anyway, I think a nice fine and a day in court is good enough for a first time offender. For repeat offenders, you gotta do what you gotta do…

  • davidscott

    “If everybody out there is ignorant but apologetic, we’d still have a big resource problem.”
    The solution to ignorance is education…not draconian laws, fines, and penalties. Some folks here thing the guy should lose his boat for a couple of fish…that is BS. Maybe some reading this can run right out and buy another boat but others would need years to replace that boat. I don't know what the numbers are…but I would hazard to guess that the problem of depleted fish stocks lies with the commercial fishing practices and habitat destruction.

  • James

    Check the Treaty of Paris, were Americans wone the right to fish in the in the ocean. That right was passed by congress, and the state can not over ride it. What the state law inforcement does is illegal.
    James

  • CaptJ

    I have grown up in South Florida, lived and fished here for over 60 years and can say that changes to the environment have affected fish stocks here as much or more then "illegal" activities. I am all for responsible size and bag limits as I have seen first hand the effects of these laws in a positive way ie: yellowtail and mutton catches. How many fish can you eat in a week anyway? The ultimate fact is that a dead fish is a dead fish whether it is speared or caught hook and line. I do both and enjoy both activities. What really bothers me is whatching a dead fish float away after being thrown back even though it is doomed because of being gut hooked, or severly injured. Responsible bag limits with resonable size limits are affective ways of controlling stocks. Lastly I can say as a former commercial hook and line fisherman that one angler with one hook on a line can't begin to put a dent in the fish population. Long lines, and nets are destructive beyond comprehension. Not to even mention fish traps which are still used in the Bahamas.

  • Patrick Henry

    Let the punishment fit the crime. The prospect of having your boat,etc confiscated for such a victimless and inconsequential violation is another example of the develoing police state in the US. The real criminals make and enforce their laws and your getting your freedoms lost little by litttle. PS How much of the taxpayers money was spent on this adolescent cop and robbers game? Probably enough to buy us hundreds of fresh fish dinners dinners. You law and order fascists types don't even know when the leeches are sucking on your blood.

  • Snook Bandit

    I will spear a snook any time, any where. I will then proceed to eat it and put its remains in my crab trap. Ive been doing that since i was 10 years old, and will continue to do so.