FWC: 4 busted in poaching operation

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla.- A major marine-poaching operation was busted over the weekend.

Florida Fish and Wildlife officials say four men are facing charges for poaching, and selling illegal fish. Authorities say there are also more charges on the way.

FWC says they found hundreds of red grouper, Goliath grouper, grouper fillets, and even a dead sea turtle on board two boats, belonging to Naples men David Vazquez Acosta and Jorge Escalona. Adnier Lobaina Lopez and Jose Escalona Ferral were also arrested. FWC says the men were selling the fish out of their homes.

Officials say they’ve had their eye on the men for more than a year. They moved in on the men late Saturday night.

“The damage they have done to Florida’s natural resources is huge. They were in possession of an ungodly number of illegal species on board their vessel,” said FWC spokesperson Jorge Pino.

The catches were either protected species, over the limit, or undersized. According to FWC, the men did not have license for fishing or selling.

FWC called the two men in charge, Acosta and Escalona, “professional poachers.””They were not only going out there and fishing, they were making this their profession. These two individuals knew exactly what they were doing. Believe their intentions were to sell that sea turtle, as well as the fillets of the Goliath groupers,” said Pino.

FWC seized two boats in the process, boats they say were built with secret compartments.”Built their vessels specifically to hide fish. We knew that,” said Pino.

FWC says these arrests are just the start, and the investigation is far from over.

 “You may have gotten away with it once, you could possibly get away with it twice but we will be on to you,” said Pino.FWC says businesses who chose to buy from the men could be in big trouble, facing fines and even criminal charges. Two juveniles caught on the boats, are awaiting charges as well.

FWC says they have taken possession of the two boats, and the three trucks, so the men can no longer live off of their operation.