Illegal Fish Harvesting
A sensitive case for Floridians, which began in over a year ago with the arrest of a team illegally harvesting marine life in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, finally came to a close on Monday and Tuesday, December 2,3. Two marine farm operators from Idaho were found guilty and sentenced to Federal Prison, Ammon Covino, 39, and co-defendant Christopher Conk, 40. Eric Pedersen, 51 and Serdan Ercan, 43 were running the harvested fish and coral under the name of the Idaho Aquarium were also convicted and sentenced in court.
Fish harvesting is a sensitive subject for native Floridians, and when the fish are taken from Florida Keys Marina Sanctuary and illegally sold wholesale around the world, it hits hard. After a year of monitoring this conspiracy, U.S. District Court Judge Jose Martinez sentenced all involved to serve time in Federal prison with terms ranging from 6 months to two years. The boat and trucks used in moving the marine life was also confiscated, the judge added probation and fines up to $110,000.
This ended the long-term investigation, which came to be called Operation Rock Bottom. Marine Life, Inc. in Grassy Key where Conk and Colvin were from is now closed. The marine life that was illegally harvested was coral, reef fish, rays, sea fans and a variety of sharks.
Other participants pled guilty in Martinez’s court on November 25. Among those, was Richard Perrin, 80, and Richard Franko, 35, with Tropicorium Inc, located in Romulus, Michigan, and they will be sentenced in March, 2014. They harvested and transported harvest sea fans, sharks, tropical fish, invertebrates and even alligators mainly from Marathon Key. For three years, they had been supplying their business with multiple trips to the Keys.
Florida law enforcement went undercover several times to obtain convictions. One illegal sale involved two lemon sharks and three spotted eagle rays, which came from inside the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Florida law prohibits removal of these, yet during the transaction, Covino told the Federal agent that it was “No Big Deal.” The sharks were sold for $650 and the rays for $1,250. Unknown to Conk and Colvin, all phone conversations and text messages were recorded.