Tourist Jailed For Collecting Seashells

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According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), it is illegal to harvest the “slow moving, long lived marine snail,” otherwise known as the Queen Conch, or Strombus Gigas. The queen conch is a type of saltwater mollusk that can be found in Caribbean and Atlantic ocean waters. Around the Florida Keys, the conch has become a symbol for a relaxed way of life, according to the FWC. Texan native Diana Fiscal-Gonzalez, who was arrested at a Florida beach while on vacation, claims that she did not known the activity she was caught doing was illegal. Now she is looking at jail time, reports BBC.

Fiscal-Gonzalez was visiting the Florida Keys recently, harvesting queen conchs from the ocean, when an eye witness phoned the FWC authorities. This 30-year-old woman was found with a group of children while taking the seashells. According to reports, Fiscal-Gonzalez pleaded guilty to the charges while in court, apologizing to the judge. She said she did not know it was illegal, and stated that her plans had been to clean the shells out and give then as gifts to her friends and family.

The initial tip came in on July 13. A recent press release from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission quotes an official, Officer John Martino, having discovered Ms. Fiscal-Gonzalez with three large plastic containers full of the conch seashells. The officer on the scene photographed the shells before promptly returning them to the ocean, citing that many of them were still alive.

Arresting officer
Featured image credit: FWCFish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

For her punishment, the judge issued Ms. Fiscal-Gonzalez 15 days in jail, six months of probation, a $500 fine, plus $268 worth in court costs and fees for extracting the 40 seashells from the Florida Keys waters, as reported by USA Today. Her removal of the shells was an illegal activity in an of itself in the state of Florida, but worse, killing, mutilating or removing a living queen conch from a shell is also prohibited. Recreational removal of empty shells from the beaches and oceans in the Florida Keys is allowed.

These conch shells certainly have an interesting importance to Floridians around the Keys, especially. In fact, native born islanders are called Conchs, and the Keys are actually nicknamed the Conch Republic. When blown into, queen conch shells produce a loud sound, which have been used as signaling devices around the Keys for centuries. People so love collected conch, that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lists these mollusk under Appendix II, meaning that while they are not yet necessarily threatened with impending extinction, it is believed that without tightly controlling trade, they will be.