When Fishing Results In Federal Violations
We’ve spoken a bit about animal cruelty charges in Florida before, but what many people may not realize is that being accused of animal cruelty under Florida state law is different from criminal charges that involve violating a federal law, such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Several Florida fishermen may now be on the hook for federal criminal charges after a recorded incident that involved dragging an endangered great hammerhead out of the water and onto one of Florida’s public beaches in early February.
You Cannot Tamper With Endangered Species
Because Hammerheads are an endangered species, it is not only illegal to kill them, but to engage in any activities that fall under “unauthorized take,” which includes anything that falls under harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect. Engaging in illegal take with a species protected under the ESA can give rise to criminal enforcement.
Fishermen Must Take Precautions to Avoid Federal Violations
Fishermen in particular need to be careful because—even if they do eventually return an endangered shark like this to the water—human handling can ultimately reduce the animal’s chances of surviving, thus, any handling first can technically fall under illegal activity. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission therefore recommends, if you have to handle an endangered species like this (if it is caught in your line, etc.), that you take every measure that you keep its gills in the water at all times in order to ensure that you are not engaging in “take” under the ESA.
Will They Be Prosecuted?
In this case, according to those witnessing and recording the incident, the fishermen battled the shark for approximately 30 minutes and, once they realized that they did indeed have a listed species (a hammerhead), chose to drag it onto the beach, cut the hook from its mouth, and return it to the water.
Your reaction and response to catching a listed species like this can be a key factor in your defense as, even though prosecutors are not supposed to prosecute for crimes under the ESA based on whether or not the individuals knew that they were handling an endangered species, frequently, federal prosecutors will only pursue enforcement in cases like this if the individuals involved specifically knew that they were handling an endangered species and still choose to harm the animal.
Under the law, anyone who “knowingly violates” the ESA may be issued a civil penalty of $25,000 for each violation. In addition, anyone authorized by the Secretary of the Interior (or the Secretary of the Department in which the Coast Guard is operating) may detain for inspection any package, make arrests without a warrant for violations of the ESA if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person is committing a violation, etc. Keep in mind that states such as Florida also have their own endangered species laws and enforcement measures.
Florida & Massachusetts Criminal Defense of Federal Charges
If you have been accused of or charged with violating a federal law such as the ESA, you should speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has experience representing defendants in this capacity. Contact the Baez Law Firm today to find out about our work to protect clients from federal criminal charges throughout Florida and Massachusetts.