Two men are facing prison time after freeing nearly 20 sharks from a commercial fishing longline near Jupiter, Florida.
In August 2020, a shark diving boat spotted the longline while taking passengers on a chartered trip. Captain John R. Moore Jr., 56, and his mate, Tanner Mansell, 29, gathered around three miles of the trap and rescued 19 sharks and one Goliath grouper. which is protected by the state.
U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutors said that the duo got the job done in three hours with the help of the passengers. But they only stepped in when they were told that the line was abandoned.
A longline is a controversial piece of fishing gear that is covered in weights and hooks and can stretch several miles. Commercial fishers use them to catch dozens of fish at a time.
This year, a grand jury indicted Mansell and Moore for theft of commercial fishing gear in federal waters. And last week, a jury deemed them guilty. Now, they awaiting sentencing on Feb. 9, which could send them to federal prison for up to five years and slap them with fines of $250,000 apiece.
According to prosecutors, a commercial fishing company owned the trap. And it was licensed to catch every species of shark that it hooked.
Shark Divers Claim They Thought the Longline was an Illegal Setup
While the defendants’ attorneys have declined to comment on the case, both men claim that they thought the longline was illegal and that they didn’t intend to steal the gear. They only meant to free the fish.
Mansell and Moore have both been working on the ocean for years. Moore was a commercial fisherman before becoming a charter captain. And Mansell is a popular underwater photographer who was involved in Discovery Channel’s 2021 Shark Week. He also has social media accounts filled with posts about shark conservation.
Prosecutors argued that because of the men’s experience, they should have known that the longline was legal because it was attached to an orange buoy that read “Day Boat III,” which is the vessel it belonged to.
A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer told prosecutors that he stopped Moore’s boat as it came to the Jupiter Inlet. When he questioned the captain, Moore said the line was an illegal shark fishing set. And the buoy — “which would have established the obvious legality of the shark fishing effort” — was nowhere to be seen.
The officer instructed the men to leave the gear on the dock for evidence. But they cut the line into pieces and threw everything in a dumpster instead.
“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,” said the prosecutors.