Hook stick illegal, but charges not pursued
Four people were fined $800 each on Wednesday for taking more lobster and conch in one day than the law allows.
Roberto Alden Jackson, 30; Jonathan Stanley McLean, 28; Sheena Minzett, 35; and Aaron Rodney Williams, 28; all pleaded guilty to taking 18 conch and eight lobster in the North Sound Channel on 12 December 2010.
The Department of Environment regularly advises that the limit for conch during open season is five per person or 10 per boat per day, whichever is less; the catch limit for lobster is three per person or six per boat, whichever is less.
In passing sentence, Magistrate Nova Hall said the four defendants were all adults and all Caymanians; they had to know the efforts being made to conserve Caymanian culture.
“Almost every week there is something in the newspaper, on radio or television that speaks to concerns for marine life,” she pointed out.
In this case, not a lot of sea life was involved, she agreed, but as long as breaches of the limits continued, marine life was jeopardised. Conversely, if everyone obeyed the limits, marine life would not be in danger.
The magistrate gave credit for guilty pleas and confirmed that no one had any previous conviction for marine offences. She said fines of $400 for each offence were meant to mark the court’s displeasure.
All four requested and were given time to pay.
How offence was detected
Crown Counsel Marilyn Brandt said the offence were detected by officers on patrol in the marine vessel Tornado around 2pm when they observed a snorkeller in the North Sound channel. Another snorkeller was hanging on to a channel marker. Some 75 feet away, there was a 14-foot South Seas vessel with a male and female on board. A black mesh bag was tied to the boat.
Minzett was operating the vessel and McLean was in the bow near the mesh bag. Jackson and Williams swam to the boat and boarded it.
Ms Brandt said officers searched and found 18 conch, one of which was still in its shell, one lobster tail and seven live lobster, a makeshift snare and a hook stick. The live lobster and conch were returned to their habitat and the others were donated to The Pines.
In addition to charges for the marine life, each defendant was charged with possession of an unlicensed spear gun.
The definition of a spear gun in the Marine Conservation Law “includes a mechanical or pneumatic spear gun, a Hawaiian sling, a pole spear, a stick spear, harpoon, rod or any device with a pointed end which may be used to impale, stab or pierce any marine life but does not include a striker”.
A striker is “a long wooden pole, no shorter than ten feet in length, with no more than two barb-less prongs attached to one end”.
All four denied owning or using the hook stick and trial was previously scheduled for Wednesday. On that day, Jackson told the court that different people used the boat they were in and the hook stick was on board, but they didn’t use it. He said if the officers had checked the lobster for marks, they would know that no hook stick had been used.
The magistrate explained that possession means custody and control. She used the example of four people in a vehicle that is stopped by police. If the officers find ganja in the vehicle all four could be charged unless or until further investigation showed specific ownership of the illegal substance.
She then adjourned court for 10 minutes for both the Crown and the defendants to decide how to proceed. Ms Brandt discussed the natter with one of the marine officers present and also listened to comments from a knowledgeable neutral source.
When court resumed, she and the magistrate agreed they had learned during the break that it was not unusual for various pieces of equipment to remain aboard a vessel and be used by other people who operate the vessel.
Ms Brandt asked for the spear gun charge to be left on file. She requested and was given an order for the destruction of the hook stick.