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FWC busts black-market shrimp dealer

By Staff | Mar 9, 2010

The black-market connection to the sale of stolen shrimp in Lee County got a little smaller Thursday, thanks to an undercover bust by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) investigators.

Shortly after noon, John Anthony Staniewicz Jr. of 19241 San Carlos Blvd. in Fort Myers Beach, was arrested by FWC law enforcement officers on a second-degree felony charge for dealing in stolen property and a second-degree misdemeanor charge of buying and selling saltwater products without a wholesale dealer’s license.

Dealing in stolen property is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Selling saltwater products without a license is punishable by up to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.

Fish-house business owners in Lee County who own shrimp boats complained to FWC investigators that they were losing about $250,000 a year as a result of theft. The complaint suggested that middlemen were buying shrimp stolen by unscrupulous boat crews employed to run the businesses’ fishing vessels.

In the past, FWC undercover investigators have targeted boat crews for this illegal practice. This time, FWC investigators targeted a suspected black-market dealer.

FWC investigators made two sales to Staniewicz. The first for 40 pounds occurred on Feb. 25. The second sale of 68 pounds of shrimp occurred on March 4, just prior to the arrest.

Robert W. Balmsworth, who bought shrimp from Staniewicz on March 4, was issued a summons for not having a wholesale dealer’s license. Balmsworth told investigators he was going to sell the shrimp to people in his neighborhood.

“The commercial fishing business is tough enough without having to deal with theft issues,” said Lt. Steve Mevers, lead investigator for the FWC. “In addition, this product was not stored or handled according to state law, and with that come significant health risks to the public.”

For more information on rules and regulations governing the sale of saltwater products, visit the FWC’s Web site at www.myfwc.com/License/Saltwater_Licenses_Commercial.htm for details.