Fake lobster-tag case leads to arrests in Florida Keys

Florida fisheries investigators have made at least two arrests following a long inquiry into the sale of counterfeit lobster trap tags required by law for commercial anglers to do business in the state.

The suspected ringleader is a Palmetto Bay woman who is the registered agent of more than 50 active and inactive commercial fishing operations in Florida. She was arrested Monday in the Florida Keys on racketeering and fraud charges.

Elena P. Reyes, 67, is being held in Monroe County jail on a total bond of $892,500.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators also arrested Michael Enrique Sanchez, 22, of Miami, in connection with the case. He is being held on a $100,000 bond.

Monroe County Judge Mark Wilson signed a warrant for Reyes’ arrest Monday on two counts of racketeering, one count of fraud to swindle $20,000 or more, and more than 30 fraud counts.

Sanchez’s warrant is for fraud to swindle $20,000 or more.

Michael Sanchez.jpg

Michael Sanchez

MCSO

Fish and Wildlife has not released the details of the investigation. The agency is expected to issue a statement about the arrests later Tuesday afternoon.

Lobster trap tags are required by the state to be affixed to commercial anglers’ traps. The tags themselves cost a dollar, but they are worth far more than that to fishermen.

The FWC limits tag allocations based on the equal amount of commercial lobster certificates a boat owner has. These certificates are allocated annually by the agency based on an angler’s reported trap usage in the preceding three-year period.

Certificates are transferable and anglers can sell them, but the market is closely watched by the FWC. The goal of the trap tag program when in was implemented in 1992 was to limit the impact of harvesting spiny lobsters in a given area.

This article will be updated as more information becomes available.