10 Atlanta residents accused of illegally using gill nets near Florida bridge

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Ten Atlanta residents are accused of using illegal gill nets to catch more than 500 pounds of fish and sharks near a major bridge in Florida, wildlife officials said.

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In a news release, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said that the suspects used four gill nets measuring “more than four and a half football fields” at the north end of the Sunshine Skyway rest area.

Wildlife officials said Marcos Navarrete, 27; Ernesto Navarrete, 35; Roberto Lopez, 41; Carlos Santana, 18; Fedy Navarrete, 38; Fredy Reyez, 18; Rafael Herrera, 40; Daniel Valente, 26; Efren Navarette, 43; and Lorenzo Navarette, 40, were taken in custody.

The gill nets -- officially called monofilament entanglement nets -- were banned in Florida after voters passed a constitutional amendment that took effect on July 1, 1995, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Use of the nets constitutes a third-degree felony, the newspaper reported. The maximum penalty is five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

According to the FWC, each person was charged with:

  • One count third-degree felony -- use of gill net in state water.
  • One count first-degree misdemeanor -- major violation pertaining to snook.
  • Two counts second-degree misdemeanor -- undersized sheepshead.
  • 13 counts second-degree misdemeanor -- undersized black drum.
  • Four counts second-degree misdemeanor -- undersized permit.
  • Five counts second-degree misdemeanor -- illegal method of harvest of snook.
  • Five counts second-degree misdemeanor -- undersized snook.
  • Five counts second-degree misdemeanor -- out-of-season snook.
  • Three counts second-degree misdemeanor -- undersized trout.
  • Nine counts second-degree misdemeanor -- illegal method of harvest of shark.
  • Nine counts second-degree misdemeanor -- illegal method of harvest of blue crab.

“This case is a great example of the important work our officers do every day to protect Florida’s natural resources,” Maj. Rob Rowe, the FWC’s regional commander, said in the news release. “The use of these nets is illegal and harmful to the fish and wildlife that are indiscriminately killed when they become entangled in it.”