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FWC Prohibited Species Violations

Invasive species are detrimental to environments all over the world, but Florida’s invasive species problem is especially outsized, thanks to its subtropical climate, multiple ports of entry, and high levels of live animal trade. More than 500 nonnative species have been reported in Florida, with about 140 of those becoming established, or thriving in the wild. 

As our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers can explain, this compels the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to be strict in its enforcement of laws prohibiting the import, sale, trade, and possession of prohibited nonnative species.

If you are accused of an FWC violation related to a prohibited nonnative species, our Broward criminal defense attorneys can help. 

Nonnative Prohibited Species in Florida

There are many animals in Florida that are not indigenous to it. Some might not cause any particular problems, particularly if they are kept from reproducing in the wild. Others, however, are invasive, which means they are adapting to life in the wild and adversely impacting native fish and wildlife, as well as posing potential threats to the health and safety of humans. 

Among the animals on this (non-exhaustive) list:

  • Pythons (Burmese, Indian, Reticulated, Northern African, Southern African, Amethystine, Scrub)
  • Green anaconda
  • Nile monitor
  • Green iguana
  • Tegus
  • Green sunfish
  • African tigerfishes
  • Electric eels
  • Piranhas and pirambebas
  • Tilapias
  • Lampreys
  • Indian wild dogs
  • Pink/rosy starling
  • Red-whiskered bul-bul
  • Java sparrow

Prohibitions extend to all live animals, eggs, hybrids, or taxonomic successors. 

Per Rule 68.5.007, certain nonnative species that are deemed harmful to Florida’s natural environment cannot be possessed by anyone except for those entities with “stringent biosecurity measures… to limit escapes.” Such measures may include caging, tagging, permitting, recordkeeping, and reporting. 

For the most part, lawful possession is only allowed by properly-permitted educational exhibits, researchers, and eradication/control agencies. They cannot be kept as personal pets anymore (with limited exceptions for iguanas and tegus if you possessed them prior to April 29, 2021 and applied for a non-transferrable, personal permit by October 2021 that must be renewed annually and is only good for the life of that particular animal). 

Those who have a prohibited non native animal as a pet can relinquish it through the state’s Exotic Pet Amnesty Program, at no cost or penalty.

There are some conditional nonnative species that can be imported/possessed – but only with proper permitting and FWC oversight. 

Penalties for Unlawful Possession/Release of Non Native Prohibited Species

The state statute that makes it unlawful to import for sale or use - or to release within the state - any species of the animal kingdom not native to Florida (unless authorized by the FWC) is F.S. 379.231. This includes responsibility for the escape of non-native reptiles of concern. 

To run afoul of this provision is considered a Level Three Violation by the FWC. Per F.S. 379.4015, that’s on the more serious side of wildlife laws. If you’re a first-time offender (or at least haven’t been convicted of a Level Three offense in the last 10 years), it’s considered a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.  

If you have had a Level Three violation in the last decade, it’s still a 1st degree misdemeanor, but with a minimum $750 fine and permanent revocation of any licenses or permits to possess captive wildlife under the statute. 

Hire a Fort Lauderdale FWC Violations Attorney

You have the right to defend yourself against FWC charges. 

You might be tempted to “take care of it” on your own, especially because it might seem that having an exotic pet shouldn’t be that big of a deal. But the State of Florida truly takes these offenses seriously, and there’s a lot that can go wrong with pro se representation in any legal matter, especially one for which you may face jail time, significant fines, and a permanent criminal record. 

Know that if they aren’t handled with the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, there’s really no going back to fix it –  and the penalties may have a greater impact on your life than you realize. We can help. 

If you have been cited or arrested in Broward County for an FWC violation, call The Ansara Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011. 

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