In a random vessel check, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers stopped Koeppel’s 25-foot Grady White during the first day of the two-day lobster sport season on the oceanside of Channel 2 Bridge near Islamorada; also aboard were Koeppel’s two sons, John Koeppel, 24, and Kyle Koeppel, 22.
“If it had been, ‘Oh, we didn’t know the regulations,’ it might have just been a citation,” FWC Officer Bobby Dube said. “But the fact that the lobsters were hidden shows outright intent to circumvent the law; any first-year law student could tell you that. They went out to purposely poach lobsters. That’s why they went to jail.
“He’s a lawyer, an educated man. There’s no way he didn’t know what he was doing. And he’s teaching his two kids to break the law.”
“I’m not going to say anything about lawyers because I’d probably get sued,” said “But I just don’t understand how people with the resources to go to the Keys in a 25-foot Grady White — I’ve priced 25-foot Grady Whites — would break the law for 28 lobsters that you could get at Publix for $6 apiece.
“It’s not like they were down on their luck and struggled out in an old row boat to get some lobsters to sell for the baby’s formula.”
Steven Koeppel was charged with 28 lobsters over the limit, no saltwater fishing license, no lobster stamp and three boating violations for lack of proper safety gear.
John and Kyle Koeppel, who had fishing licenses and lobster stamps, were charged with 28 lobsters over the limit.
Steven Koeppel was unavailable for comment Friday.
Longtime recreational lobster hunter Billy Hart wants the state to deal harshly with the Koeppels.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “He’s a lawyer. He should know better. There are limits for a reason. There’s no reason to be greedy. And no fishing license? They need to nail these guys.”
Dube said Hart might get his wish.
“The license, stamp and boating citations will probably cost him $500,” Dube said. “For the 28 lobsters, it’s on a per-lobster basis, and that’s up to the judge. Monroe County’s state attorney and the courts back us 110 percent, or more. They don’t take any fisheries violation lightly. I tell people, ‘We give good jail time in Monroe County. You’ll get more jail time for fisheries violations than sticking up a liquor store.’ This guy is probably going to get slammed.”
Diver Lesli Haynes, manager of FGCU’s Coastal Watershed Institute laboratory, called the Koeppels’ actions “absolutely absurd.”
“There’s just no excuse, especially the fact that (Steven Koeppel) didn’t have a saltwater fishing license,” she said. “I mean, come on. Are they going to plead ignorance? If you’re a lawyer, you can’t not know. I’m happy to hear they got caught.”
Brent Argabright, owner of Dean’s Dive Center in Fort Myers, said he didn’t want to criticize the Koeppels.
“The sad part is: Why?” he said. “Twenty-eight lobsters over the limit? The thing I tell all my customers when they’re going to the Keys for lobster is lobsters are the bonus. You’re going down with your family or friends to a place like nowhere else in the country, so enjoy the moment. But these guys had to go down and take more than the limit.”