Stealing from crab traps is a serious crime
Tuesday, May 01, 2012
Media contact: Joy Hill, 352-258-3426
A South Daytona man found out recently that getting caught robbing commercial crab traps will land you in big trouble in Florida. Not only did he not get to enjoy a stone crab supper, he now faces misdemeanor and felony charges.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Officer Don Meurlot arrested Eliot Avelar (DOB 09/15/77) of 561 Brook Circle and charged him with theft of a commercial blue crab trap – a third-degree felony – and possession of stone crabs in whole condition – a second-degree misdemeanor. Stone crabs are sometimes caught in blue crab traps as bycatch, as was the case here.
Avelar is accused of taking stone crabs from blue crab traps belonging to a properly permitted commercial fisherman that were set in the Intracoastal Waterway between the Orange Avenue and Dunlawton bridges in Daytona Beach. A caller had notified the FWC about having seen a man in a truck hauling a boat leaving the boat ramp on Dunlawton Avenue on April 21 around 7:30 p.m. He appeared to have stone crabs in whole condition with him, according to the witness.
The witness provided the truck’s license plate number, which came back registered to Avelar. When Meurlot arrived at Avelar’s residence, he saw the vessel had been disconnected and two men were cleaning it. When Avelar saw the FWC officer, he looked at him and the bucket of live stone crabs. About that time the second man, who was on top of the vessel cleaning it, jumped off and fled by jumping fences.
It is legal to harvest stone crab claws right now, but not the whole crab. By removing just the legal claw(s) and returning the crab to the water, it can continue to reproduce and help keep the fishery alive. The minimum length for a stone crab claw is 2¾ inches measured by a straight line from the elbow to the tip of the lower immovable finger.
Meurlot was able to return the live stone crabs to the water.
So far, the FWC has been unable to identify or locate the second man, who is described as a Hispanic male in his 20s wearing a blue shirt and light-colored shorts. Avelar called him Miguel. Anyone with information about this man is asked to call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.
Robbing from, removing or pulling up blue or stone crab traps is illegal. If convicted, violators face penalties of up to five years in prison and/or up to a $5,000 fine.
“Robbing crab traps is robbing someone of their livelihood. Commercial fishermen’s income depends upon their catch. It’s a serious violation,” said Lt. Steve VanNortwick, FWC law enforcement lieutenant in Volusia County.
But people who want crabs for supper don’t have to steal someone else’s.
“Anyone with a valid recreational saltwater fishing license may harvest crabs in traps recreationally as long as the traps meet certain criteria,” VanNortwick said.
Recreational crabbers are limited to using five traps, which must be marked with a buoy with the letter “R” painted on them. Commercial crabbers must mark their traps with the letter “V” for blue crabs and the letter “X” for stone crabs. Also, the name and address of the crabber must be permanently attached to the trap. And, each trap must have three escape rings so smaller crabs can escape, as well as a biodegradable panel or device that will deteriorate so crabs will not be forever trapped if the trap line is cut or the trap is abandoned.
For more information on commercial and recreational saltwater fishing go to MyFWC.com/Fishing.
To report crab trap robbers and other violations, please call the 24-hour toll-free Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). Callers may remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward if their information leads to an arrest.