Capt. jailed for illegal catch

A judge sentenced a fisherman to 45 days in jail on Monday for illegally catching more than 500 pounds of yellowtail snapper in a protected spawning reserve in the Dry Tortugas.

Capt. Evelio Egusquiza Fornes of Miami pleaded no contest to fishing and possessing fish in a restricted area, Assistant State Attorney Colleen Dunne said.

In addition to the jail term, Judge Wayne Miller sentenced Fornes to six months’ probation and ordered him to forfeit $2,588 generated from the sale of the roughly 664 illegally caught yellowtail, Dunne said.

Fornes’ mate, Jorge Gallart, pleaded guilty in April and served 52 days in jail, court records state.

The fishermen were caught in February in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve with the yellowtail snapper on their boat, the Candalaria, according to Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) spokesman Bob Dube.

FWC law enforcement officers were tipped off by the boat’s satellite tracking device, which the federal government requires for commercial fishermen of reef species off the Florida Keys, Dube said.

The men kept turning off the tracking device trying to elude law enforcement, he said.

Anchoring and fishing in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve is strictly prohibited without a federal permit.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary set aside the 151-square nautical mile reserve, a known snapper and grouper spawning site, in 2001.

“It is an ecological reserve set up to allow for natural spawning and the replenishment of the fishery,” Dunne said.

The arrests came a week after a study was released touting the success of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve.

tohara@keysnews.com

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