Four Winter Haven-area men cited for illegal lobster in Middle Keys

This is what state marine officers say is the illegal haul.
This is what state marine officers say is the illegal haul.

Four Polk County (Winter Haven area) men face charges they speared and possessed numerous undersize lobster Monday off Marathon.

The four were cited around 4:30 p.m. -- next to the bayside water entrance of U.S. Coast Guard Station Marathon, says the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Spokesman Bobby Dube says Lt. David Robison and Officer Oliver Adams were patrolling the area when they saw a boat and two snorkelers at the rocky shoreline. When the boat started leaving a bit later, Robison and Adams pulled it over.

They found no safety violations but asked about any fish they might have on the boat. The boat operator, Justin Merritt, and the three others -- Cody Myers, Sebastian Reece and Hunter Stokes -- told them they harvested lobster and fish, Dube says.

Myers said he caught six lobster and the others said they each caught three or four. Merritt also said speared a hogfish and Stokes said he had speared two fish.

The FWC officers found that 15 of the 17 lobster aboard, as well as the hogfish, were under the minimum size for keeping. The two fish Stokes harvested were gray angelfish. They had both been speared.

When all was said and done, Merritt was cited for possession of 15 undersize lobster and one undersized hogfish; Stokes for possession of 15 undersize lobster and possession of angelfish greater than 8 inches; Reece for possession of four speared lobsters and possession of 15 undersize lobsters; and Myers for possession of 15 undersize lobsters.