What is Mahi Mahi?
Mahi Mahi – also known as dolphinfish, dolphin or dorado – is one of Florida’s most popular fish, and a staple in the Palm Beaches. Not to be mistaken for the Bottlenose Dolphin (known in the movies as the adorable “Flipper”), Mahi Mahi is a powerful, colorful and beautiful sports fish available year round, with June and July being the months of peak accessibility. Mahi Mahi are found fairly close to shore off the Atlantic coast.
Although there isn’t a closed season for dolphin, it is on the restricted species list pursuant to section 379.101(32), Florida Statutes. Failure to follow guidelines for Mahi Mahi or any other restricted species could result in an infraction, a suspension of permit or license, or a criminal fishing violation from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the government entity in charge of actively patrolling Florida waters.
Noncriminal marine infractions have relatively minimal consequences, with civil penalties assessed for violations. This is not to say that marine infractions should be taken lightly; an accumulation of marine violations can ultimately result in severe sanctions or even a criminal charge. Similar to a traffic ticket, paying a marine infraction constitutes an automatic admission of guilt. To protect your fishing future, you may want to think twice before simply paying the ticket and moving on; electing court may be a better option.
The vast majority of FWC criminal citations are second degree misdemeanors punishable by 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. However, sentencing enhancements are available for aggravating circumstances or when a suspect has an extensive record of marine violations. These enhancements can raise the offense level to a first degree misdemeanor or even a felony, which carry more severe consequences.
Regarding dolphin, one of the most common regulations enforced by FWC involves the size of the fish. In order to keep the Mahi, it must measure at least 20 inches to fork according to 379.401(2A) Florida Statutes and the corresponding Fish and Wildlife guidelines. A common misconception is that the Mahi has to be 20 inches total, including the length of the tail; unfortunately, the tail is not included in the official measurement of the fish. Mahi are to be measured from the fork in the tail to the mouth.
The rules also state that it is illegal to keep any dolphinfish that has been beheaded, sliced, cut, divided, filleted, ground, skinned, deboned or even scaled. Some exceptions apply in the commonwealth of the Bahamas. Be sure to monitor where you are fishing and what rules and exceptions apply in the area.
Another regulation to keep in mind is the daily bag limit of 10 per person or 60 per vessel. Even if you have more than 6 people aboard the vessel, you must not exceed the 60-per-boat cap. This is the case for both recreational and commercial use.
What happens with a Mahi Charge
Receiving an FWC citation is not just a “ticket”; it is a threat to your future as a fisherman and/or boater. This is especially true when the citation is criminal. Criminal FWC citations are arresting documents with mandatory court and the potential to land you in jail.
If you receive a citation for a violation involving Mahi Mahi, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The criminal defense attorney will be able to confirm whether the charge is a marine infraction or a criminal citation; demand all of the evidence for review; waive your presence in court; communicate with the judge and prosecutor; and fight for dismissal. While the outcome of your case can depend on several legal and procedural factors (prior record, the evidence, police action, etc.), having an excellent defense attorney by your side is also a factor that can tip the balance in your favor.
As mentioned earlier, a marine infraction will require the accused to make a decision between paying the infraction or challenging the infraction in court. Paying the infraction is an automatic admission of guilt and an adjudication (conviction) on your record. For this reason, you may want to consider choosing the court option. Choosing court does not mean you cannot later resolve your case; it simply means you are giving yourself the opportunity to review the evidence and the options, and possibly ask law enforcement or the court for leniency.
A criminal Fish and Wildlife citation serves the dual function of an “arrest” and Notice to Appear in court. Your criminal FWC citation should include information about your first court date. If it doesn’t include a court date, you should still receive a Notice of Hearing from the clerk’s office in the mail. When the citing officer submits his copy of the citation to the clerk of courts, the clerk creates a criminal case in the system with your name and a case number. From there, the clerk issues a Notice of Hearing with a court date for arraignment (formal reading of the charges).
Most of the time, it is not advisable to close your case at your first court date, as you have not yet had the opportunity to review the allegations, the evidence, or your options; pleading guilty at arraignment is essentially giving up the opportunity to seek a dismissal or lesser penalty in your case. In most cases, entering a plea of “not guilty” at arraignment is the best course of action because you will then have time to prepare your defense, present mitigating circumstances, and possibly negotiate a better plea offer. After arraignment, you may have a series of hearings while you prepare your case; these are often called Case Disposition, Status Check, and/or Plea Conference. Ultimately, your case will resolve with a plea, trial, or dismissal. Again, the outcome can depend on several factors, but having an attorney experienced in FWC cases by your side is certainly a plus.
How Casanova Law Can Help
Our Wellington, Florida law firm boasts a founding attorney with nearly a decade of experience in criminal law, including Fish and Wildlife charges. Attorney Lourdes Casanova is a former prosecutor for Palm Beach County who has litigated thousands of criminal cases. Casanova also interned for the State Attorney’s Office and Florida Attorney General’s Office as a law student. In addition to her legal experience, attorney Casanova is a South Florida native with a personal understanding of our Florida natural landscape and waters.
Casanova Law is familiar with the procedure of FWC for civil and criminal charges alike. We are also passionate about our community, our clients and our cases. Our goal is to get your case dismissed. Let us fight for you.
Call Casanova Law today to schedule a consultation.