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Jail time, hefty fines await men guilty of freshwater fishing violations in Salt Springs Run

For immediate release: December 8, 2011
Contact: Joy Hill, 352-258-3426

Jail time, hefty fines await men guilty of freshwater fishing violations in Salt Springs Run

Two men who were charged with a variety of freshwater fishing violations have been adjudicated guilty in Marion County Court for numerous misdemeanor counts stemming from their illegally harvesting largemouth bass and blue crabs from Salt Springs Run last May.

Robert “Rhett” Deen Cowart Jr. (DOB 04/24/83) of Bunnell was sentenced to 30 days in jail and approximately $2,000 in fines. Paul Aaron Griste (DOB 02/15/78) of Palatka was ordered to serve 52 days in jail, pay nearly $5,000 in fines and forfeit a boat, motor and trailer, which were used in the crime.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers arrested Griste and Cowart last spring for a variety of violations relating to illegally taking and possessing largemouth bass, blue crabs and bream in Salt Springs Run in Marion County.

On May 9, as FWC Officer Dana Klein was checking Griste’s 16-foot aluminum boat for the required safety equipment on Salt Springs Run, she saw a spear gun on his boat. It is illegal to fish in fresh water with a spear gun in Florida.

In the boat’s livewell she found mullet and tilapia, taken by bow and arrow, which is a legal method for those species. However, she found a blue crab in the livewell that had been illegally taken by spear gun.

Griste and Cowart denied having any other fish on board. But, as Klein continued to inspect the vessel, she found 42 largemouth bass, 14 bream and two blue crabs hidden in a bag under a wetsuit. All showed signs of having been speared.

Klein arrested Griste and booked him into the Marion County Jail. Cowart fled the scene but was arrested by FWC officers the next day in Flagler County on violation of parole. He was booked into Flagler County Jail. FWC officers later served him with the fishing violations.

The illegally caught fish were donated to a local charitable organization.

Salt Springs Run is a renowned area for bass fishing, providing both a great recreational opportunity and an economic boost to the area. Most people who fish there do it legally. Unfortunately, some just don’t follow the rules, Klein said.

“It is tremendously gratifying to see that Cowart and Griste have been ordered to pay for their crimes. I really appreciate the judge’s actions and the hard work by the state attorney’s office,” said Klein. “Not only does this kind of enormous illegal harvest impact present-day fishing, it can also adversely impact future bass populations.”

If you know of illegal fishing, hunting, wildlife or boating activity, please report it to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline. The number is 888-404-3922 and is open 24-7. Callers may remain anonymous and could be eligible for a reward if their information leads to an arrest.