Florida state wildlife (FWC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) law enforcement officers found more than 200 criminal violations by 21 individuals in a recent investigation. The almost 2-year operation targeted individuals who illegally bought fish and wildlife products in five counties in Florida and shipped them out of state to be sold to the public.
“The suspects were ultimately working together in a criminal conspiracy,” said Maj. Curtis Brown, head of the FWC’s Investigations section.
Officers found that the suspects were buying products from poachers and unlicensed individuals and shipping them to markets out of state. The suspects made one or two trips a month, transporting 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of product each trip. The out-of-state markets are still being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This was a large-scale illegal poaching operation with serious implications for the environment, economy and public health,” Brown said. “They placed orders that included one for 900 pounds of poached white-tailed deer and another for 500 pounds of illegal snook.”
To date, the operation has identified 21 suspects. The criminal charges include 147 misdemeanor violations and 75 felony violations. Ten suspects were arrested and taken to local county jails. Undercover officers successfully infiltrated the illegal operations and were able to gather sufficient evidence of the crimes. The species involved include grouper, snapper, trout, redfish, snook, bass, bream, catfish, deer, turkey, ducks and alligator.
“Some of those are restricted species,” Brown said. “Over-harvesting, taking them out of season or taking them by illegal methods harms the resource, undermining conservation efforts.”
In addition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the FWC worked with partner organizations including the National Wild Turkey Federation, Humane Society of the United States and Ducks Unlimited.