Five Jacksonville residents were arrested Thursday for illegal use of an entangling net in state waters. The violation occurred on Lake Ponte Vedra in the Guana River Wildlife Management Area in St. Johns County.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers, the five people cited for the felony were Kel Ku, Faw Nay Moo, Percy Khin, Kyaw Thuya and Than Win.
In addition to this third-degree felony charge, the four men and one woman were also charged with over the bag limit of redfish, first-degree misdemeanor; harvest of spotted seatrout by illegal method, second-degree misdemeanor; possession of undersized redfish, second-degree misdemeanor; possession of undersized spotted sea trout, second-degree misdemeanor; and possession of undersized black drum, second-degree misdemeanor.
On June 28, FWC officers Benjamin Boots and Steve Bacon issued notices to appear to the five individuals.
"We were watching two other fishermen using cast nets in the wildlife management area near the dam, which is illegal," Bacon said. "We heard a noise and checked it out."
The officers found the suspects fishing with no lights at 10:30 p.m. on a moonless night in and around Guana Dam on the lake.
"It was pitch black out there," Bacon said.
The officers found that the five people had 22 undersized redfish, seven spotted seatrout (five undersized), and five black drum (three undersized).
"In addition to the redfish, spotted seatrout and black drum, the suspects also had numerous croakers and other unregulated fish that had been caught up in the gill net," Bacon said. "We issued all five people notices to appear on the fisheries violations that night. The felony arrest warrants for the gill net were issued Wednesday, and we were able to arrest the suspects Thursday."
For the net-rule violation to be a felony, the gill net must be made of monofilament line or be bigger than 2,000 square feet.
"The suspects' net was made of monofilament line and measured out at 5,217 square feet," Bacon said.
They were able to conceal the gill net, two cast nets, 17 blue crabs and 103 fish in a 50-quart cooler, Bacon said.
On Lake Ponte Vedra, fish may be taken with hook and line only. The possession of gill nets is prohibited. The use of cast nets or gigs from the Guana Dam to 50 yards north of the dam is prohibited.
"This type of case can become complex and cumbersome because of the number of violations, violators and evidence that must be seized," said Lt. Steve Zukowsky of the St. Johns Coastal Crew, the officers' supervisor. "The entangling net used to harvest these fish is a highly indiscriminate killer and can easily decimate a local population in minutes. Ben and Steve did a great job on this case from start to finish and their dedication and perseverance is in the finest tradition of FWC officers statewide."