Tighter rules to help curb trap thefts

Rules allowing a commercial fisherman to pull traps owned by another fishermen could be tightened this week by the state’s top marine agency.

A regulation change going before the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at its two-day meeting in Apalachicola would require a notarized form and a call to marine officers before a “delegate” could pull lobster or crab traps registered to another fisherman.

“Law enforcement [officers] requested that these forms be updated to improve the enforceability of delegates pulling traps,” an FWC staff report says.

The Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association – which accounts for the lion’s share of the lobster caught statewide – does not object, executive director Bill Kelly said.

“Assuring someone is authorized to pull another person’s gear by completion of the paperwork in the presence of a notary is one more step in preventing trap robbing,” Kelly said.

“There has always been a provision to authorize someone else to pull your traps in the event of illness, mechanical breakdown or other problem,” Kelly said. “It’s common practice for fishermen to assist one another during the seasonal opening and closure for deployment and retrieval of traps.”

Under the new proposal, a fisherman working another’s traps must be listed on a notarized form signed by the traps’ owner.

Additionally, a call to the FWC dispatch office would be required every day when the delegate is pulling the traps. A delegate must be a licensed commercial fisherman with needed permits.

FWC staff recommends the agency board approve the rule change under the consent agenda in Apalachicola.

Kelly said while attending the FWC meeting Wednesday and Thursday, he plans to press agency officials to expand hours for deploying crab and lobster traps at the start of fishing seasons.

“Some of the rules are ambiguous and we have had incidents of different interpretations of certain rules by officers in the field,” Kelly said.

Pulling and setting traps now is allowed only from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset, to limit trap robbing during night hours.

Fishermen should be allowed to work throughout the night at the start of the season to deploy traps, Kelly said.

A recent seizure of 1,512 counterfeit state lobster-trap tags by the FWC alarmed Keys fishermen, Kelly said.

“This is a very serious issue. We don’t know how long this has been going on,” he asid. “How many countereit tags are actually out there?”

Proposals for improved tag design to discourage counterfeiting tags will be raised at the session, Kelly said.

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