Feds: Without a license, Little Torch Key man harvested bonnethead sharks to ship out of state

Bonnethead sharks are generally timid. There's a black market for them created by some people who want them for their aquariums.
Bonnethead sharks are generally timid. There's a black market for them created by some people who want them for their aquariums.

In a continuing crackdown on the illicit trade of marine life in the Keys, a Little Torch Key man was charged Friday with felony conspiracy for allegedly taking bonnethead sharks from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary without a federal license.

If convicted of the federal charge accusing him of violating the Lacy Act, which bans trafficking in wildlife, Charles Jamison, 74, faces up to five years in prison, a fine up to $250,000 and forfeiture of his boat and related gear.

Bonnetheads grow 3 to 5 feet long and generally are considered timid. Some tropical-fish collectors want bonnetheads, part of the hammerhead family, for use in their aquariums. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami says juvenile bonnetheads have a market value of $350.

The feds say on or around Sept. 22, 2012, Jamison harvested two bonnetheads while aboard his 17-foot Mako. Three days later, he harvested three more from Lower Keys waters, they say.

According to the indictment, around Sept. 27 that year, "a co-conspirator known to the United States Attorney's Office" picked up four bonnetheads from Jamison's house and delivered the sharks to a commercial marine life facility on Big Pine Key.

The indictment says that on Nov. 2, 2012, Jamison was paid $440.50 for two bonnetheads. A week later, the "co-conspirator" negotiated with Jamison for the sale of four more to be sent to an Atlanta "customer." Then on Nov. 19 that year, Jamison was paid by the "co-conspirator" $1,344 for three bonnetheads.

The names of the co-conspirator and the Big Pine marine-life center aren't contained in the indictment, signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald, who's prosecuted Keys marine-life cases in the past.

Jamison pleaded not guilty June 27.

The crackdown on illegally trading in Keys marine life became apparent in 2011, when federal authorities raided the former Key Marine on Grassy Key. Several people, either with or without connections to Key Marine, have been prosecuted since.

For example, a Romulus, Mich., man was sentenced in April to five months in federal custody after pleading guilty in connection with what the feds called Operation Rock Bottom. Joseph Franko, 35, admitted taking nurse sharks from the Keys and juvenile alligators from the Big Cypress National Preserve.

Also in April, Idaho Aquarium Inc. was fined $10,000 and ordered to pay $50,000 toward Keys marine restoration projects. Two of its former officers had tried to buy protected eagle rays and lemon sharks in a case linked to Key Marine.