FWC, Coast Guard Fine Illegal Charter Boat Operator

TAMPA, Fla. – The Coast Guard, working in conjunction with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers, disrupted an illegal charter fishing business operating out of Spring Warrior Creek in Perry, Fla.

The undercover investigation led by FWC, resulted in charging Johnny Browning, 58, of Lakeland, Ga., with multiple marine resource law and licensing violations.

Browning was charged with taking paying passengers on fishing trips without a valid U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s license or enrollment in a chemical testing program. For these violations, the Coast Guard issued Browning a $2,000 citation.

FWC also charged Browning with multiple counts of State misdemeanor resource crimes to include: (1) missing commercial vessel registration, (2) no Saltwater Products License, (3) speckled sea trout bag limit violations, (4) harvesting speckled sea trout commercially without a Restricted Species Endorsement, and (5) taking speckled sea trout out-of-season. The violations may result in Browning losing fishing privileges in Florida as well as fines and costs as determined by a County Judge.

FWC patrol officers received an anonymous tip about an individual operating out of the Spring Warrior Fish Camp who was conducting fishing charters without a proper U.S. Coast Guard license to carry passengers for hire. Officers also received reports of Browning violating the daily bag limit of speckled sea trout by making multiple trips and that he was selling his catch in Georgia. Undercover FWC investigators, posing as out-of-town fisherman, hired Browning for several fishing trips that produced evidence of licensing and resource violations.

Coast Guard regulations require each vessel transporting passengers to carry additional safety equipment and to have a licensed operator, holding a valid Merchant Mariner’s License. To receive a Merchant Mariner’s License, a person must demonstrate fundamental seamanship knowledge and skills through tests and experience, undergo a criminal background check, pass a health exam, and participate in a drug and alcohol testing program.

“The Coast Guard, in concert with state and local partners, actively investigates all reports of illegal passenger vessel operations, imposing civil or criminal penalties when required,” said Matt D. Dooris, Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg. “In this case, through the teamwork of federal, state, and local law enforcement, an illegal and unsafe passenger vessel operation was stopped and natural resources protected.”

If you carry six or fewer passengers on the water and want to ensure you’re in compliance with federal rules and regulations, you may schedule a Coast Guard voluntary safety examination by Contacting Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg at (813) 228-2191 Ext. 8136.

This year, Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg has performed 43 un-inspected passenger vessel safety examinations.

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