PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. – Two Tampa men are facing felony charges after a bottlenose dolphin and several other species of fish were found dead near Gandy Beach in Pinellas County.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) says two men – 30-year-old Yunior Rosales Morales and 34-year-old Yandie Concepcion – are suspected of illegally using a gill net to “take several species of fish and a juvenile bottlenose dolphin.”
The combined size of the three gill nets used by the two men measured more than 3,100 square feet, FWC said.
FWC said bottlenose dolphins are federally protected and wildlife officials are working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the investigation.
According to Maj. Roger Young, FWC officers hid in mangroves off Gandy Boulevard overnight on July 31, waiting two hours before making an arrest.
"They were pretty surprised, to say the least. I think that they did not expect to be stopped and checked or have anybody come out of the mangroves with their lights on."
Maj. Young says these two worked in the dark of night to secretly poach protected marine life.
“They were out to do one thing and that was to catch and keep as much as they could,” said Young.
Investigators credit anonymous tips that came in through the agency’s Wildlife Alert Hotline for helping get the two suspects off of the shoreline and behind bars.
The two men are facing the following charges:
- Felony - illegal use of gill net
- Felony - failure to transit gill net
- Felony - possession of gill net on vessel less than 22-foot
- Misdemeanor - stop netting
- Seven misdemeanors - snook out of season
- Seven misdemeanors - llegal method of take for snook
- Six misdemeanors - undersize snook
- Three misdemeanors - redfish out of season
- Misdemeanor - oversize redfish
- Misdemeanor - over the bag limit of bonnet head sharks
- Misdemeanor - illegal method of take for shark
- Misdemeanor - major violation pertaining to snook and redfish
For those unfamiliar with gill nets, FWC says they are “any net constructed wholly or partially of monofilament material other than a cast net or a landing dip net. They are typically vertical sections of net that are stretched out on a rope suspended by a float and typically work by “gilling” the fish and entangling them within the mesh.”
It's a form of deep-water fishing typically reserved for commercial fishers and research scientists.
Most fishes die after they get entangled in gill nets, FWC explained. Gill nets were banned in Florida back in 1995, according to FWC.