Lobster poachers getting just punishment

To the editor: Trap molestation and theft of spiny lobster is an ongoing problem and serious financial burden to the livelihoods of law-abiding citizens gainfully employed in the commercial fishing industry. The estimated loss to commercial fishermen due to theft is 8-10 percent of the total annual harvest. That translates into huge numbers at 450,000 pounds of lobster with a wholesale value of $2.7 million dollars for the 2009-2010 season alone.

Why some people feel it is their right to steal from licensed lobster harvesting gear, whether for a lobster dinner or for profit, is bewildering. It is also a felony under Florida State Statutes that, if convicted, could get you five years in a State prison, a $5,000 fine and other punishment. One week ago in Key West, Judge David J. Audlin Jr. passed sentence on a trio of convicted lobster thieves. Judge Audlin began his sentencing hearing with these words, “These are serious crimes and warrant more than minimum sentences.” He then administered harsh penalties including a three-year prison sentence for the vessel captain, an additional two years probation and lifetime forfeiture of his lobster harvesting gear and licenses, effectively preventing him from ever returning to the water to make a living or steal the livelihood of others.

On Plantation Key, a trial under the jurisdiction of Judge Luis Garcia recently concluded in his courtroom with felony convictions of a father and son team also charged with molestation of licensed lobster harvesting gear. These two men will face sentencing sometime in August and hopefully the penalties will be at least as severe as those administered in Key West.

We wish to express our heartfelt thanks to the State Attorney’s Office of Monroe County for dedicating the time and resources to tackle this enormous and egregious ongoing criminal issue depriving hundreds of licensed lobster harvesters of significant annual income. Assistant State Attorneys Val Winter (Key West) and Colleen Dunne (Plantation Key) were simply outstanding in their preparation, dedication and methodology in prosecuting these cases. Naturally, we extend our sincere appreciation to include State Attorney Dennis Ward and his hard-working staff and support team.

Especially noteworthy is the diligent investigative work of the men and women with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and their expert courtroom testimony.

We are only weeks away from the start of the 2010-11 lobster harvest season and the annual two-day mini-season for recreational harvesters. Please help us educate visitors to our island chain that lobster traps are real property. Stealing from them is a felony and will most likely result in severe penalties for those convicted, including jail time. We ask the Florida Department of Transportation to restore highway signs that warn visitors and residents alike of the consequences of molesting buoys, trap lines or traps.

We also hope these recent court cases will serve as a potent reminder to anyone in the industry considering poaching from other fishermen that ultimately, you will go to jail and risk the forfeiture of your vessel, fishing gear and licenses for your lifetime.

Bill Kelly, Executive Director, Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association

Tow trucks ruin July Fourth celebration

To the editor: The 4th of July has always been a special holiday for me and for so many other folks too. It is a time that I can celebrate how great our country is and all the patriots who protect our way of life.

Like so many other folks, My wife and I enjoy watching the fireworks display here in the Upper Keys while supporting our local economy. We get to bounce from Sundowners to the Big chill and on to the Carribean Club over a few hours time while visiting with other local business owners and friends.

This has always been a good time for us over the years until last night. I admit parking can be congested during these events and cars were lined on both sides of U.S. 1 and the median from the Marriott past the Carribean Club and across the street oceanside in an empty field. So we finally found a spot just off a side street in that empty field where we weren’t blocking anyone and could leave easily after the fun. The whole area was packed and it was nice to see so many people getting out.

After several hours we made our way back towards our vehicle only to find it missing. We couldn’t believe it was gone. I was ready to call the police when I could see tow trucks in the distance snatching up other parked vehicles. This can’t be, I thought. Why are they towing us on a holiday when we are parked in an empty field and are not hurting anything?

Over the years everyone has used this area just for special events parking and even Scott Stoky, owner of Sundowners, had directed me to park there believing there would be no problem.

Well there was a problem. After a few hours we returned to find our vehicle missing. What the heck I thought! Then I could see the tow trucks down from us snatching cars and trucks as fast as they could. I approached one of the men and asked him if he had towed our car. He said he did. I asked why he was towing on the Fourth? He stated he had a contract on that property and was taking full advantage of it and he would not cut any breaks.

So it was going to cost us $135 for the tow, an additional $6 per mile, a $75 release fee and storage if it stayed overnight, and he only takes cash.

I told him that I hoped he would report that cash to the IRS and thanked him for making the end of our night so difficult. I thought towing really gives them the right to steal from the public not to mention hurting business.

The ironic thing is the tow business is called All American, but I think it should be called Only in America, where you can rob people who intend on having a nice night. I’m sure they got 30 other people that night too. You do the math on it! How unAmerican can you get? I don’t think they are even a local business and I hope they are doing business legally with all the right paperwork and licenses.

Sorry to all the others who ended up in the same boat. I would like to see that property (the tow zone) with more visible signs in the near future and shame on the bottom feeders who take advantage of other hard working folks. God Bless America.

Capt. George Clark Jr., Key Largo

Animal farm open for visitors on July 11

To the editor: The Sheriff’s Animal Farm will be open next on July 11, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Bring the family and come visit the animals at the far, including horses, a cow, pigs, goats, bunnies, alligators, tropical birds, a Kinkajou, a family of Sloths, an Emu, a family of Patagonian Cavys, tortoises and turtles, snakes and many more. It is free of charge, but donations are welcome.

The farm is located just off of College Road, on Stock Island, at the Sheriff’s Office Headquarters complex. Groups may schedule special tours at the farm by calling Farmer Jeanne Selander at (305) 293-7300.

Deputy Becky Herrin, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office

FKEC trustees made right choice in Tyree

To the editor: Having noted that Dr. Larry Tyree officially began his tenure as “president” of Florida Keys Community College on June 16, I am writing to publicly commend the FKCC Board of Trustees on his permanent appointment. It has been my privilege to know Dr. Tyree for most of the quarter of a century-plus I have worked in higher education. Without question, I regard him as my foremost mentor, and one of the most highly respected professionals in the American community college movement.

I currently serve as a community college president in Mississippi; however, I worked in the Florida community college system for about 10 years and have been a full- or part-time resident of the Sunshine State since 1987. So, I still have a keen interest in Florida’s “Great 28,” one of our nation’s premier community college systems.

In that regard, I was elated to learn of Dr. Tyree’s permanent appointment at FKCC. I can honestly say that I know of no finer servant leader in our industry. Dr. Tyree’s integrity, wealth of experience, inherent wisdom, communication skills, and genuine caring nature are among the many assets that will continue to prove invaluable to FKCC as the institution seeks to meet its fundamental mission — to improve the quality of life for the people of the Keys.

At the end of the day, there is only one meaningful way to lead, and that’s by example. When I consider the kind of leader I aspire to be, Larry Tyree has always been the consummate example for me. So, congratulations to the FKCC Board and the entire Keys community for its selection of Dr. Tyree. Simply put, he’s the best!

Scott Elliott, President, Meridian Community College, Meridian, Miss.

People did speak at polls in last election

To the editor: The letter you published, on July 2, from James Pettorini of Key Colony Beach, could have been taken out of a three year old time capsule, and written by a left-wing Democrat. Just change the names of the villains, and you have a description of the George W. Bush administration, oligarchy and all.

Like many others, Mr. Pettorini has been awakened from some Rip Van Winkle-like slumber, seemingly oblivious to the crimes and malfeasance of the previous presidential administration. The one that took our economy from one with a historic budget surplus to a historic deficit, while cutting taxes for the wealthiest and plunging us into two costly land wars halfway around the world. The one that ignored the Constitution and trampled the Bill of Rights. The one that expanded government (read: Department of Homeland Security) while cutting assistance to the “least of these” among us.

What Mr. Pettorini doesn’t realize is that the people DID show up at the polls, voiced their disapproval, and threw that government out of office. Now, as any student of American government will agree, the political pendulum continues to swing. Let’s hope it doesn’t swing back to the disastrous “what’s-in-it-for-me” policies of the far right.

Tim Bricker, Key Largo