2 men accused of robbing stone-crab traps

State wildlife officers nabbed two suspected stone-crab trap robbers Friday afternoon near Ballast Key with the help of some eyes in the sky.

Both men are commercial fishermen, according to jail records.

Romualdo Ricardo Salado, 42, of Shrimp Road on Stock Island, was charged with four counts of trap molestation.

His mate, Christopher Payne, 52, of Miami, was charged with one count of trap molestation.

Both were also charged with misdemeanor possession of 25 undersized stone crab claws, reports say.

Trap molestation is a third-degree felony punishable by a maximum five years’ prison time and $5,000 in fines.

A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission pilot alerted FWC officers after tracking the boat, the report says.

The officers spotted the duo in the vessel at 12:23 p.m. on the oceanside of Ballast Key, pulling four traps with colors that did not match their vessel number. Officers noted no other boats were in the area at the time.

FWC pilots have been joined by volunteer pilots with the Florida Keys Commercial Fishing Association in an effort to curb trap robberies, which have long plagued honest fishermen on both ends of the island chain.

Salado and Payne’s arrest comes amid a tough season for Monroe County commercial fishermen already facing numerous challenges, from the implementation of new fishing quotas to horrible spiny lobster and stone crab seasons.

Florida Keys commercial fishermen are calling the 2012 season one of the worst lobster and crab seasons on record. Prices have remained fair, but there is not a lot of product to be found, according to the FWC and industry officials.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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