Community service and fine for taking 119 conch

Sentence reduced because of guilty plea, no previous similar offenses

A man who admitted taking 119 conch and 12 lobsters during closed season was sentenced to 120 hours of community service and fined $400.

Magistrate Valdis Foldats told defendant Ernie Adrian Ebanks that the only reason he had not considered imposing a jail sentence was because Ebanks had no previous convictions for marine offenses. 

“Otherwise you would be going to jail because of the number,” the magistrate told him. 

He also thanked Ebanks for doing the right thing by admitting his guilt. That was why the magistrate could reduce the sentence, he said, 

Ebanks entered his pleas last year and the court received a social inquiry report before imposing sentence. 

The report indicated that Ebanks, a charter boat operator, had taken the marine life because of financial difficulties; he had no money and “decided to take a chance.” The report also stated that Ebanks normally respected the marine laws and was deeply remorseful. 

Crown Counsel Marilyn Brandt said the offenses occurred on July 16, 2013. The closed season for conch is May 1 to Oct. 31. The closed season for lobster is March 1 to Nov. 30. 

A marine officer observed a vessel coming to shore from the North Sound around 7 p.m on July 16. He watched as buckets and a large garbage can were off-loaded and placed in a bus. After the bus was driven off, it was stopped by officers who found 119 popped conch, 63 conch shells and 12 lobsters, of which three were under size. 

The matter first came to court on Sept. 3. Ebanks subsequently pleaded guilty; a co-accused pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. 

Last week, the magistrate pointed out that under the Marine Conservation Law, Ebanks’s boat could have been forfeited, which meant that he could have lost his livelihood. 

“These are serious offenses,” he pointed out. “We’re concerned about the loss of marine life. It’s catastrophic in terms of consequences.” 

One of those consequences could be that there is nothing left for future generations, Mr. Foldats said. Another is the impact on tourism: “You wouldn’t have much of a business if everybody takes all the fish,” he told Ebanks.  

The magistrate said he had to send a message to like-minded people that there had to be a substantial penalty. “I hope this is painful. It has to be to send the message.” 

He suggested that Ebanks do the community service when the season is slow and gave him time to pay the fine.