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FWC cracks down on backdoor buying, selling of saltwater fish

For immediate release: February 8, 2011
Contact: Gabriella B. Ferraro, 772-215-9459

FWC cracks down on backdoor buying, selling of saltwater fish

Five employees at four Palm Beach County restaurants face misdemeanor charges as a result of a five-month investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) into the illegal buying and selling of saltwater fish.

Working on information obtained by licensed fish dealers and fishermen, FWC investigators initiated “Operation West Palm Snook.” Their surveillance efforts verified that employees from several local restaurants were involved in the illegal buying of restricted, prohibited or protected saltwater fish species, including goliath grouper and snook, a popular gamefish, from unlicensed people.

The first phase of the investigation occurred in late September, when FWC investigators posed as fishermen and sold approximately 32 pounds of snook – from the FWC’s research lab – to several restaurants and retailers in the West Palm Beach area. At that time, an employee of one of the restaurants, King’s Super Buffet Chinese Gourmet, bought 23 pounds of snook for $49. Investigators used the information gleaned during these visits in the second phase of the operation.

Last month, investigators returned to those locations where violations were determined or reported. Undercover investigators again sold restricted and protected fish, including snook. The FWC issued citations to employees at King’s Super Buffet Chinese Gourmet and China Taste in West Palm Beach, Peppermint Thai and Sushi in Royal Palm Beach, and Kingdom Buffet in Lake Worth.

The buying and selling of snook is prohibited in Florida. The recreational snook season is also closed; no one may legally possess the species until the season opens Sept. 1.
Goliath grouper is a prohibited species. No one may possess, buy or sell goliath grouper. Only catch-and-release activities are allowed.

“The backdoor sales of saltwater products by unlicensed people have a negative effect on licensed dealers and fishermen,” said FWC investigations Capt. Jeff Ardelean.

“Additionally, saltwater products illegally bought and sold pose potential health risks to the public. The rules are in place to protect and conserve the species for the long term.”