MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Law enforcement officials believe some boaters might have found a loophole to get through county boat ramps on the weekend.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has seen a large increase in the number of people applying for commercial fishing licenses after counties like Palm Beach, Martin and Broward decided to limited public boat ramp access to only those engaging in licensed commercial activity.
WPTV NewsChannel 5 compared the number of licenses issued between March 1 and March 22, when ramps were open to the public, to the number of licenses issued between March 23 and April 7, after ramps closed.
In Palm Beach County, that number jumped from six licenses to 314.
In Martin County, that number jumped from one license to 47.
In Broward County, that number jumped from zero to 171.
During the same time frame of March 1 to April 7 in 2019, 30 licenses were issued for all three counties combined.
"It is such a substantial increase that it would lead me to believe that people are using it as a loophole," Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said. "They're gaming the system. They're buying these licenses and pretending to be commercial fishermen."
Snyder hopes people will abide by the rules in place.
"You're certainly violating the spirit of the law as we try to keep our community safe," he said. "You're jeopardizing the boat ramps for everybody."
An individual commercial fishing license starts at $50.
Snyder said Martin County Parks Department workers will be at open boat ramps, checking that people using the ramps have commercial fishing licenses and a valid business license. They should also be on a commercially registered vessel, which is required when harvesting for commercial purposes, according to FWC.
"If you come to these docks pretending to be a commercial fisherman, but you're really a pleasure boater and you get caught, you could face a second-degree misdemeanor and a criminal record," Snyder warned. "I am not imagining that we will have a lot of patience. Either you're a commercial fisherman, you have a business, you have a tax receipt to prove you're a commercial fisherman or don't show up at the dock."
The FWC has not said if it would limit commercial licenses at this time, but said it is working closely with its partners and following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and governor's office.