Diana Fiscal-Gonzalez, from Dallas, Texas, was on vacation in Key West and thought she would pick up some shells as gifts.
Now, she's going to jail for 15 days for it.
Fiscal-Gonzalez pleaded guilty in the Monroe County Courthouse this week to picking up 40 Queen Conch shells, the Miami Herald reports. What she didn’t know is that it is illegal to collect these shells from any Floridian shores...well, under certain circumstances.
Though picking up just the shells isn’t a problem, the regulation has to do with the organism that lives in the shell. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “Possession of live Queen Conch (Strombus gigas) at any time is prohibited. It is not unlawful to possess queen conch shells in Florida as long as the shells do not contain any living queen conch at the time of collection, and so long as a living queen conch is not killed, mutilated, or removed from its shell prior to collection.”
The Queen Conch “is one of the largest and most commercially important gastropod molluscs in the Caribbean Sea, Bermuda, and Bahamas” according to the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce.
Conch’s are historically very important in the Key’s culture. People who have lived there are often called “Conchs” and people used to put the shells on a stick in their front yard to announce the birth of a newborn.
In the Bahamas, there is strict government regulation on the collection of Queen Conchs, but they still use the animals as a source of food with given permission from the Bahamian government.
Fiscal-Gonzales said she wasn’t aware of the shell’s cultural and biological importance and has apologized.
Even still, Judge Mark Wilson’s sentencing included the 15-day jailing (with credit for one day of time served), six months of probation, a $500 fine plus $268 for court costs.
However, she won't have the burden of a criminal conviction on her record.