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FWC Violations

Most arrests and citations from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) stem from lack of understanding about the law. Accusations most commonly concern unlicensed fishing or hunting, boating law violations, and disrupting protected species or habitats. A Broward FWC Violations Lawyer can provide invaluable legal counsel if you are accused of violating FWC laws. 

Paying the fine is an admission of guilt. You may be subject to penalties with long-term impacts you haven't fully considered - including a stain on your permanent record.

The FWC is given broad authority when it comes to overseeing and enforcing the laws intended to protect Florida’s abundance of unique fish, wildlife, environments, and natural resources. 

Although there are occasionally repeat offenders or those who should know better, the reality is most people cited for FWC violations are first-time offenders with no criminal history. They often come from other cities, states, or countries. They’re here for recreation and simply don’t realize regulations even exist as to where, what, when, and how they can legally fish, hunt, boat, camp, or swim.

While Florida doesn’t accept ignorance of its laws as a valid excuse for violating them, an FWC violations defense attorney in Broward can help ensure these factors are appropriately balanced. We understand that criminal FWC violations can have substantial, long-term impacts - including license suspensions, hefty fines, a permanent criminal record, and possibly even jail or prison time. 

What’s more, there is a nonprofit rewards program (Wildlife Alert) that incentivizes citizens to report fish, wildlife, and boating violations in Florida. People can be rewarded anywhere from $100 to $1,000 for information leading to a citation or arrest. What’s more, if they wish to remain anonymous, they are not required to provide identifying information or testify in court.

FWC rules and regulations are extensive and complex. Before you decide to “just pay the fine” or try to represent yourself in court, consult with an experienced FWC violations attorney in Fort Lauderdale - someone who knows the laws, recognizes what you’re up against, and is able to effectively advocate on your behalf. Even if the evidence against you is substantial, we can often advocate for reduced charges and/or penalties - particularly if it’s your first offense. If it is not your first offense, then you most definitely need legal representation for what could be serious consequences. 

Levels of FWC Violations

If you are issued an FWC violation in Fort Lauderdale or elsewhere in South Florida, you’re going to notice the offenses are categorized by “levels” - 1-4, with 1 being the least severe and 4 being the most. Then there are “major violations,” which can be charged as crimes - misdemeanors and felonies, depending on the facts of the case.

Levels 1-4 are outlined in F.S. 379.401 (civil penalties for noncriminal infractions, criminal penalties, and suspension and forfeiture of licenses and permits) and F.S. 379.4015 (non-native and captive wildlife penalties). 

Major violations, which primarily concern excess recreational fishing, illegal commercial fishing, use of illegal nets, and unlicensed harvesting/selling saltwater products are detailed in F.S. 379.407. Note that penalties major violations are “stackable” and don’t allow for deferred or withheld adjudication of guilt. 

On top of the punishments outlined here, FWC can levy additional penalties in some cases. These include:

  • Suspension or revocation of any license or permit under any provision of these laws. 
  • Civil penalties of up to $5,000 for each animal - up to $10,000. 

If the offenses pertaining to illegally killing, taking, possessing, or selling fish or wildlife in or out of season, there will be a $500 fine for each violation - plus court costs and restitution. 

When imposing these penalties, the courts will consider the defendant’s prior history of violations/noncompliance with FWC rules, economic benefit derived from the action, the harm to others, and the costs incurred by the FWC in addressing/mitigating the issue. 

Even if you think “it’s not that serious,” you’d be wise to contact an experienced FWC violations defense attorney. We will fight to protect your licenses, your finances, your reputation, and your freedom.

Wildlife Classes

The FWC is responsible for permitting, licensing, and enforcing rules pertaining to certain types of animals. Regulations for the hunting, taking, possession, killing, exhibition, sale, rehabilitation, farming, or import of certain animals depends on their classification - either Class I, Class II, Class III, venomous reptiles, game animals, nonnative species (conditional or prohibited), and imperiled species.

Class I and Class II animals are those that present a real or potential threat to human safety, and as such require permitting and very specific caging requirements. 

Class I animals, which include large cats (lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, jaguars, etc.), crocodiles, black caimans, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, rhinoceros, elephants, komodo dragons, hyenas, bears, etc., cannot be kept as pets. Permits aren’t granted without proof of substantial experience, cage requirements, and commercial activity.

Class II animals, which include some larger cats (bobcats, ocelots, African golden cats, lynx, clouded leopards, etc.), alligators, caimans, giraffes, okapis, tapirs, small-to-mid-sized monkeys (langurs, macaques, mangabeys, howler monkeys, etc.), wild cattle, coyotes, jackals, wolves, badgers, ostriches, and cassowary, must also obtain a permit requiring substantial experience and specific cage requirements, though they may be kept for personal or commercial purposes. 

Class III animals aren’t all named (there are too many) but generally include both native and non-native species, the most common being exotic birds, small mammals, smaller reptiles and amphibians. Permits may be required for exhibition, sale, import, falconry, rehabilitation, or keeping these animals as personal pets. Domestic animals, such as horses, dogs, cats, domestic rats and mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, pigs, poultry, llamas, etc. are not regulated by FWC. 

Venomous reptiles can only be kept with a permit, which requires 1,000 hours of experience working with the species over at least one year of time. They also need two letters of reference from an existing permit holder or representative of a professional organization or government agency dealing directly with such reptiles. 

Nonnative prohibited species (ex: pythons, nile monitor, green iguana, etc.) can only be kept by permitted facilities for research, educational exhibits, or eradication purposes. With few limited exceptions, they can’t be kept as pets or sold, and their cages have to meet strict requirements. 

Native animals from the wild - including those injured, orphaned, or abandoned - are not allowed to be kept as personal pets. If you find an animal in distress, you can’t keep it - even to take care of it - without a permit. In general, civilians are required to take such animals to a permitted wildlife rehabilitation center. If you keep it longer than necessary to transport it to a permitted rehabilitation center, that’s illegal. 

Activities relating to game animals - specifically raising, selling, releasing, hunting, importing, or keeping as a personal pet - require a license or permit.

Imperiled species are those protected by state or federal law. These include species like manatees, panthers, sea turtles, and gopher tortoises. Individuals can face substantial penalties for hunting, killing, taking, harassing, or possessing one.

Rules regarding FWC wildlife licenses and permits must be followed to the letter. Violators may be issued citations or possibly face criminal charges.

FWC Level 1 Violations

As outlined in the previous Florida statutes, Level 1 violations enforced by FWC include:

  • FWC rules/orders relating to the filing of reports or other documents required for recreational licenses and permits or any FWC alligator licenses/permits.
  • FWC rules/orders relating to quota hunt permits, daily use permits, hunting zone violations, camping, alcohol, vehicles, and vehicles in wildlife management areas. 
  • FWC rules/orders relating to daily use permits, alcohol, swimming, firearm possession, operating vehicles, and watercraft speed in wildlife management areas. 
  • FWC rules/orders relating to vessel size or specifying motor restrictions on certain bodies of water. 
  • FWC rules/orders requiring the return of unused CITES tags issued under the state’s alligator harvest program or nuisance alligator program. 
  • Deer hunting without wearing the right clothing, as outlined in F.S. 379.3003.
  • Hunting, fishing, or trapping without the proper recreational license from the state, as outlined in F.S. 379.354.
  • Hunting with a firearm, gun, bow, or crossbow without successfully completing the hunter safety course and/or having in their personal possession a hunter safety certification card, as outlined in F.S. 379.3581.
  • FWC rules/orders requiring free permits/other authorizations to possess captive wildlife.
  • FWC rules/orders relating to filing reports or other records required of people licensed to possess captive wildlife.
  • FWC rules/orders requiring permits to possess captive wildlife for which a fee is charged when that person has a permit but the permit expired less than 1 year before the violation.

FWC Level One violations are non-criminal civil infractions, for which one is typically fined (usually somewhere between $50 and $500 (plus administrative fees), depending on the offense and whether you have priors). However, refusing to accept a citation, refusing to pay it, or failing to appear before a county court as required is a second-degree misdemeanor, a criminal offense.

FWC Level 2 Violations

Level 2 violations are those stemming from violations of FWC rules/orders relating to:

  • Seasons or time periods for taking wildlife or fish (freshwater and saltwater).
  • Access to wildlife management areas.
  • Feeding saltwater fish.
  • Landing requirements for freshwater or saltwater fish. 
  • Restricted hunting areas, critical wildlife areas, or hunting areas. 
  • Tagging requirements for wildlife or fur-bearing animals. 
  • The use of dogs for taking wildlife.
  • Unlawful use of traps.
  • Maintaining records relating to alligators. 
  • Returning unused CITES tags.
  • Intentional harassment of hunters, fishers, or trappers, per F.S. 370.105.
  • Fishers and equipment, per F.S. 379.2421.
  • Spearfishing, per F.S. 379.2425.
  • Contaminating fresh waters, per F.S. 379.29.
  • The use of explosives and other substances of force in fresh waters, per F.S. 379.295.
  • Unlawfully loaning or transferring a license or permit and the use of a borrowed or transferred license or permit, per F.S. 379.3502.
  • Making false statements or entering false information in applying for a license or permit, per F.S. 379.503 and F.S. 379.504.
  • Unlawful sale of subagent hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses and permits, per F.S. 379.3511.
  • Unlawfully taking, killing, or possessing a tarpon without buying a tarpon tag, per F.S. 379.357(3).
  • Freshwater fish dealer licenses, per F.S. 379.363.
  • Fur and hide dealer licenses, per F.S. 379.364.
  • Stealing trap contents or trap gear of stone crab, blue crab, or spiny lobsters, as outlined in F.S. 379.365 and F.S. 379.366 and F.S. 379.367.
  • Licenses for taking and possessing alligators, per F.S. 379.3751, and tagging requirements for alligators and hides, per F.S. 379.3752.
  • Unlawful taking of bonefish, per F.S. 379.413.
  • Paying a fee for a permit to possess captive wildlife requiring maintenance of records relating to captive wildlife.
  • Housing of wildlife in an unsafe manner when a violation results in the escape of wildlife (other than Class I wildlife or venomous reptiles). 
  • Wild animal life identified by FWC as conditional or prohibited species.
  • Capturing, keeping, possessing, transporting, or exhibiting reptiles that are venomous, of concern, condition, or prohibited, per F.S. 379.372. Also failure to obtain a license/permit for the above (F.S. 379.373), bonding requirements for public exhibitions of venomous reptiles (F.S. 379.374), and rules relating to the escape of reptiles that are venomous or reptiles of concern (F.S. 379.305).
  • Violations of rules and regulations concerning the exhibition, sale, or personal possession of wildlife (F.S. 379.304, F.S. 379.3761, and F.S. 379.3762).

Violations of Level Two violations of FWC rules may be charged as a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. However, if it’s your second or subsequent offense in 3 years (of a Level Two Violation or higher), it gets bumped up to a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine. If it’s within 5 years of any two prior Level Two-and-up violations, it’s a minimum mandatory $500 fine plus suspension of all recreational or captive wildlife licenses for 1 year. If it’s your third violation within 10 years, it’s also a 1st degree misdemeanor, plus a minimum $750 fine and suspension of all licenses/permits for 3 years. 

FWC Level 3 Violations

Level 3 violations are those stemming from violations of FWC rules/orders relating to:

  • The unlawful sale of saltwater fish.
  • The illegal import or possession of exotic marine plants or animals.
  • Importing freshwater fish, per F.S. 379.28.
  • Illegal sale or possession of alligators or alligator skins, per F.S. 379.3014.
  • Taking game or fish (fresh or saltwater) while a required license is revoked or suspended, per F.S. 379.354.
  • Unlawfully selling, transferring, or buying tarpon, per F.S. 379.357.
  • Unlawfully taking and possessing a deer or wild turkey, per F.S. 379.404.
  • Unlawfully taking or possessing bears, per F.S. 379.4041.
  • Possessing and transporting commercial quantities of freshwater game fish, per F.S. 379.406.
  • Possessing certain finfish in excess of the recreational daily bag limits, as outlined in F.S. 379.407.
  • Housing wildlife in an unsafe manner when violation results in escape of Class I wildlife or venomous reptile.
  • Violation of captive wildlife rules that results in serious bodily injury to another person by the captive wildlife that consists of a physical condition creating substantial risk of death, serious disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of a major bodily function.
  • Use of gasoline or other chemical or gaseous substances on wildlife.
  • Unlawfully releasing wildlife for which only conditional possession is allowed.
  • Knowingly entering false information on an application for license/permit to possess wildlife in captivity. 
  • Illegally importing and possessing non-native marine plants and animals. 
  • Illegally importing, possessing, or releasing fish/wildlife for which possession is prohibited.
  • Illegally importing non-native wildlife, per F.S. 379.231.
  • Escape or release of non-native reptiles of concern, per F.S. 379.305.

A first-time FWC Level Three violation is a first-degree misdemeanor, with penalties of up to one year in jail. Depending on your prior history, you might also be facing a minimum mandatory fine of $750 to $1,000, and revocation of all licenses or permits for 1-5 years or permanently. 

FWC Level 4 Violations

Level 4 violations are those stemming from violations of FWC rules/orders relating to:

  • Violation of any Level 3 offense after permanent revocation of a permit or license.
  • Release or escape of a non-native venomous reptile, per F.S. 379.305 (3).
  • Buying, selling, trying to sell, offering to sell ,conspiring to sell, barter, trade, exchange, or import for sale any species of venomous reptile, per F.S. 37.305(4).
  • Unlawfully making, forging, counterfeiting, or reproducing  a recreational license (or possessing a fake one) without FWC authorization, per F.S. 379.354.
  • Unlawful taking of stone crabs, per F.S. 379.365.
  • Unlawful taking and harvesting blue crabs, per F.S. 379.366.
  • Willful molestation of spiny lobster gear, per F.S. 379.367.
  • Unlawfully reproducing, possessing, selling, trading, or bartering spiny lobster trap tags or certificates, per F.S. 379.3671.
  • Unlawfully selling or taking deer or wild turkey, per F.S. 379.404.
  • Unlawfully selling taken bears, per F.S. 379.4041.
  • Molesting or stealing freshwater fishing gear, per F.S. 379.405.
  • Unlawfully killing, injuring, possessing, or capturing alligators or other crocodilia or their eggs, per F.S. 379.409.
  • Intentionally killing or wounding any species that’s been designated as endangered, threatened, or of special concern, per F.S. 379.411.
  • Killing any Florida or wild panther, per F.S. 379.4115.

Level 4 Violations of FWC rules are third-degree felonies, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. 

Major Violations

As outlined in F.S. 347.402(2), major violations are primarily issued to commercial offenders. These include violations involving illegal taking, harvesting, or selling of 100+ stone crabs, blue crabs, or spiny lobsters, as well as illegally taking/harvesting shrimp, oysters, clams, sturgeons, snook, turtles, or manatees. 

Commercial offenders will face whatever base penalties they otherwise would, plus an additional $10 for every pound of unlawful taking/harvesting. They are also subject to loss of their commercial boating and saltwater product licenses for 2-5 years. If they commit 3+ violations within 3 years in certain protected areas, they may be facing a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. 

Cited or Arrested for FWC Violations in Broward, Palm Beach, or Miami-Dade?

Obviously, avoiding an FWC violation is preferable if possible. It’s a good idea to download the Fish Rules App, which you can get in your App Store or via the FWC website. It’s a good idea before you head out on a fishing excursion to know exactly how to measure fish (remember to include a pinched tail for measuring fish and lobsters), as well as to know which season you’re allowed to fish/hunt which species.

If you are cited or arrested for FWC violations in Broward County (or off the coast of Broward County), keep in mind that even if you disagree with the FWC officers, you’re likely being videotaped. Be respectful and polite to FWC officers, and let your attorney make your case later. 

If you have been cited or arrested in South Florida for an FWC violation, call The Ansara Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties.

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