Lobster law headed to governor

State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, made waves this legislative session getting myriad bills passed and the biggest breaker likely to cause headaches for lobster poachers is headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

House Bill 47 passed the Senate unanimously Monday after the House approved the measure last week without a “no” vote. The bill will now will go before Scott, who can either sign it into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature. He has about 15 days to decide.

“We usually get a phone call with the governor’s staff if they have any questions, so we’ll be looking for that, but I don’t foresee a veto,” Raschein said Tuesday.

Should Scott sign the bill, it will go into effect on July 1.

The law was a collaborative effort between Raschein, Monroe County State Attorney Catherine Vogel’s office, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the commercial fishing industry, Raschein said.

“It’s nice to have everything done and get these bills before the governor,” Raschein said. “It’s been a good session.”

The tougher spiny lobster law will increase the penalties against multiple violators:

  • If the first violation includes 25 or more illegal lobster, the law is bumped to a first-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in county jail and as much as $2,000 in fines;
  • A second violation is another first-degree misdemeanor, but also a suspension of fishing licenses for no more than 90 days;
  • A third violation is a first-degree misdemeanor with a mandatory prison term of six months, $2,500 in fines and all fishing license revocations to not exceed six months. A caveat was added to the third violation: If it occurs within one year after the second violation, there is a mandatory minimum of one year in prison, a $5,000 fine and all fishing licenses will be permanently revoked.
  • A fourth violation would constitute a third-degree felony, with a mandatory minimum prison sentence of one year, fines of $5,000 and all permanently fishing licenses revoked. The maximum prison sentence for a third-degree felony is five years in prison.

The legislation dropped earlier language that would have tacked on one charge for every lobster in illegal possession as that language took some discretionary enforcement out of the hands of police and marine patrol officers.

“Wrung tails on the water is most commonly associated with trap robbing and this bill (H.B. 47) goes part and parcel with the new trap-robbing legislation last year,” said Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Bill Kelly, referencing a case last year in Big Pine Key in which a man was found with more than 300 wrung lobster tails on a boat.

“With no fishing or diving gear on the boat, it was obvious what he was doing,” Kelly said, referring to trap robbing. That law allows judges to send trap robbers to prison for as long as five years.

Robbing traps has been a third-degree felony punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and $5,000 in fines, but due to a restriction that went into effect on July 1, 2009, judges had to find that offenders were a threat to public safety in order to impose prison sentences.

Under that restriction, judges could only sentence nonviolent trap robbers to a maximum of 364 days in county jail. The trap robbing law removed that restriction.


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