By Kevin Wadlow
A Miami man caught near Long Key with hundreds of lobster and a commercial trap-puller — but no commercial lobster licenses — was sentenced to a year in jail April 1.
Jorge Vargas, 59, also was fined $28,680 and banned from Florida Keys waters during a five-year probation term following his release, Monroe County State Attorney Catherine Vogel said Monday in a prepared statement.County Judge Ruth Becker imposed the sentence at the Marathon courthouse as marine law-enforcement officers and local commercial fishermen looked on.
Vargas already was known to marine officers when he was arrested last October with 267 wrung tails aboard his boat.
In addition to multiple conservation counts, including having a trap-pulling machine with no legal permits to own traps, Vargas was charged with having failed to appear in court from an October 2011 arrest when 332 illegally harvested lobsters were seized.
Vargas accepted a plea that imposes 364 days in jail for each case but the sentences will be served at the same time.
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Wilfredo Guerra made the Oct. 18, 2014, arrest off Long Key at 4 a.m. He saw Vargas pulling traps and separating lobster tails on the water, according to a Sheriff’s Office account. Lobster must be brought to shore in whole condition.
Counts filed by the State Attorney’s Office in that case included felony harvesting of commercial amounts of lobster without a commercial lobster license. He also was charged with misdemeanors for possessing separated tails on the water and undersized lobster.
In October 2011, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Lt. Liz Riesz and Sheriff’s Office Deputy Anthony O’Dea made a case against Vargas after he was seen returning to dock at Long Key aboard a boat running without lights.
A search of his catch revealed 332 wrung tails, of which 274 were below the legal size limit. Vargas also had nine stone-crab claws taken in a closed season.
“This sentencing demonstrates how strong working relationships with other agencies can help FWC protect natural resources in Florida,” FWC Capt. David Dipre said a statement released by the State Attorney’s Office.