Jupiter shark diving crew convicted of stealing fishing gear

Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 2:00 PM EST
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Two Palm Beach County men who offer tourists the opportunity to swim with sharks were convicted Tuesday of stealing fishing gear in federal waters.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the captain and mate each face up to five years in prison and significant fines.

The defendants, John R. Moore Jr., 56, of West Palm Beach, and Tanner J. Mansell, 29, of Jupiter, ran their business from Jupiter Inlet.

Authorities said that in August 2020 Moore and Mansell operated a vessel with six tourists to swim with sharks in the federal waters off Jupiter Inlet.

The feds said during this excursion they were carrying a police chief and his family, who were visiting from the Midwest, and two other tourists.

After their first dive of the day and en route to a second dive spot, the crew saw a large orange buoy, which was the marker for a commercial fishing gear set. Officials said the buoy was clearly marked with the vessel name as required by federal law. Also, prosecutors said that video taken by the tourists clearly showed the markings.

Despite Moore's history as a former commercial fisherman, he and Mansell told their passengers that this was an illegal, abandoned "ghost set" and fooled the passengers into assisting in retrieving a lengthy section of the line.

They released any catch on the hooks and stowed more than 3 miles of monofilament line, weights, ganglionsand the marker buoy on the deck of their boat.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the tourists took videos and still photos, establishing that this activity occurred for more than three hours and resulted in the loss of at least 19 sharks to the fishermen and vessel owner.

After engaging in the illegal conduct for about an hour and a half, investigators said Moore called state enforcement officers and gave an inaccurate statement of what was seen and found at the buoy site. He claimed he'd found an illegal shark fishing long-line and that he observed entangled lemon sharks, leading to his efforts to cut them free.

Officials said he never mentioned that the line was attached to a properly marked buoy. A state officer advised Moore to cease his activities pending an investigation.

On the way to place the tourists ashore, prosecutors said Mansell hopped aboard a second outbound dive boat to act as a crewman. He took the fishing line with him and continued with the theft of the commercial gear.

A Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission officer spotted Moore entering the Inlet and stopped the boat.

On a video clip of that encounter, Moore explained that the line was a shark long-line set and asserted it was an illegal fishing operation. However, investigators said photos and videos recorded by the passengers showed the marked orange buoy repeatedly. However, when the FWC officer took his own photos of the line and gear on Moore's vessel, prosecutors said the buoy which would have established the obvious legality of the shark fishing effort was gone.

The officer also noted that all the gear retrieved by Moore and Mansell appeared brand new, with fresh bait on the hooks, and no rust as would be evident with abandoned fishing gear. Moore was advised to leave the gear on the dock as the officer would collect it later as evidence.

Despite directions from the FWC officer, authorities said Moore did not wait at the dock or secure the evidence. Instead, they said he scavenged the line for the hooks, attachments, and weights and allowed others on the dock to take the rest of the hardware connected to the main line.

Moore and Mansell were present when the line was loaded into a cart and the cut-up line placed in a dumpster.

Evidence at trial established that the gear alone cost the vessel owner approximately $1,300 and the value of the lost sharks amounted to several thousand dollars, which represented a significant portion of the income that would be paid to the fishermen.

In addition to potential prison time, Moore and Mansell could be fined up to $250,000 and be ordered to pay restitution to the victims.

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