Eric P. Pedersen and Serdar Ercan, owners of Key Marine Inc., were Indicted Friday after they were accused of selling illegally collected sea life, according to a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Florida. Pedersen, 51, and Ercan, 42, are charges with conspiracy to harvest, transport, and sell a variety of local sea wildlife. It is unclear whether the defendants were arrested or, if so, whether they qualified for bail bond. It is also unclear whether either of the defendants had hired an attorney.
According to the press release, the defendants are co-owners of Key Marine Inc. in Grassy Key. Key Marine Inc., which is also listed in the indictment as a defendant, deals in the sale and trade of live sea creatures, sources indicate. So far, it is unclear how these allegations have affected the day-to-day operations at Key Marine. The business and its president, Andrea Ercan, appear to have remained mum regarding the indictment. If the defendants are found guilty of the charges, Key Marine Inc. could face a fine of up to $500,000, or twice the gross monetary gain the defendants made from the illegal captures. In addition, the defendants could each face a maximum sentence of five years behind bars, reports indicate.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration enacted the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act and the National Marine Sanctuary Act into law in January 1997. These acts prohibit the capturing, removal, or injury to coral and/or live rock. Despite this, reports say between October 2010 and February 2011, the defendants collected rare and protected sea creatures from the local waters. Sources say Pedersen and Ercan did not have permits or licenses to collect most of the species, which were sometimes attached to live rock. These species included sea fans, lemon sharks, bonnethead sharks, and nurse sharks, according to the release. In addition, the indictment accuses the defendants of exceeding the legal amounts they were entitled to take of certain creatures.
The defendants were allegedly aware that their actions were illegal. The press release states that “The defendants engaged in the day to day business of collecting, exporting, and selling in interstate and foreign commerce various species of marine life, including Live Rock and attached invertebrates … knowing that the marine life was taken and intended to be sold in violation of the laws and regulations of the State of Florida.”
Reports say the defendants also violated the Lacy Act when they sold the creatures between states. The Lace Act makes it illegal for anyone to import, export, or purchase foreign fish, wildlife, or other commerce. It is unclear whether any other merchants or customers will be arrested as part of the allegedly illegal sales. It is also unknown whether any of the species taken have been recovered or if they can be successfully released back to sea.
Detectives with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement, Southeast Division, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service all contributed to the investigation. Though the details of the investigation are not known, it apparently involved a raid on the business that took place back in 2011.