TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says it issued arrests and warnings in 24 counties, from Polk to Escambia, as part of a four-day operation called “Operation Wild Web.”
The operation aimed to crack down on the illegal selling of fish and wildlife.
Katie Purcell, Community Relations Coordinator for the FWC, confirmed that 36 citations and 84 warnings were issued to 97 individuals, some received multiple citations and warnings, in last month’s bust.
Most arrests were second-degree misdemeanors, punishable by up to $500 in fines and up to 60 days in jail. While there weren’t any arrests or warnings issued in Pinellas County, two Polk County residents were cited, Purcell said.
Officers and investigators with the FWC partnered with other agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement. They used the Internet to find people who authorities say intentionally carried out the unlawful sale of fish and wildlife, among other crimes. Cases involved the unlawful sale of pythons, bearded dragons and other reptiles, as well as freshwater and saltwater fish and exotic birds. The operation also cracked down on businesses operating without licenses and the illegal sales of vessels.
“Licensed facilities and legal business can be checked to ensure animals are handled safely and humanely,” said FWC Capt. Rett Boyd, who supervised the operation. “But unlicensed facilities go without inspections for safety and cleanliness. And without a record of where they got their animals, these facilities could potentially spread dangerous diseases through their transactions, without any way to track the source of the problem.”
Some people, Boyd said, may think operating online is a way to get away with taking advantage of protected species, “but we are dedicated to working with our partners to stop that.”
Illegal wildlife trade generates an estimated $19 billion a year worldwide and ranks fourth on the list of the most lucrative global illegal activities behind narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
If you see or suspect a fish, wildlife or boating law violation, report it to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline. Call 888-404-3922, text Tip@MyFWC.com, or visit MyFWC.com/WildlifeAlert.