Conch fritters and cracked conch are popular menu items in South Florida. But the queen conch served in the state is usually harvested in the Bahamas, and not caught here — or at least it shouldn’t be.
Harvesting queen conch, which is a protected species in Florida and in consideration to be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, can be a third-degree felony in the state, as a Key West man found out late last week.
Burley David Smith, 67, was arrested Friday by state fish and wildlife officers who say he caught and ate two queen conchs on Wisteria Island, an undeveloped island just off Key West frequented by homeless people.
As of Tuesday, Smith remained in Monroe County jail, held on a bond of $21,500 on one felony count of harvesting queen conchs, a misdemeanor charge for harvesting the conchs and another misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest without violence.
Information about his legal representation was not immediately available.
Three Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers were sent to the island to respond to reports a person was catching and eating queen conch, said agency spokeswoman Arielle Callender.
When they arrived, Callender noted a witness told them Smith caught the conchs, cooked the sea snails and ate them at his camp site.
The officers spoke with Smith, who they said was “argumentative and refused to cooperate.” When the officers told Smith he was being detained, “he became combative and was placed under arrest,” Callender said.
The officers went to his campsite and found two empty queen conch shells next to a pot and fire, Callender added.
For more information on queen conch and other fisheries regulations in Florida, go myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/marine-life.