SW Fla. divers, shrimpers pull massive net from illegal reef

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http://www.news-press.com/story/news/local/2017/02/03/local-divers-shrimpers-pull-massive-net-illegal-reef/97440664/

Huge shrimp net removed from illegal manma…
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Huge shrimp net removed from illegal man made reef off of Bonita Springs. With teamwork from the LCSO dive team, A shrimp boat from Erickson and Jensen, a crew from the Vester Field Marine Station and the FWC, a potential killing field is eradicated Andrew West/news-press.com

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Grant Erickson was in no mood to fail Friday.

“Just give it more power,” he told his crew aboard the Penny V, a shrimp boat based out of Fort Myers Beach. “Turn it up another notch. Something will happen. And I don’t care if it spins the boat in circles.”

Erickson and his crew were three of a dozen or so divers and boaters who helped remove a massive shrimping net from an illegal reef about 10 miles off Bonita Beach.

“It’s about $20,000 worth of gear,” said Erickson, who owns 12 shrimping boats that ply the Gulf of Mexico from Southwest Florida to Texas and back.

Trips of that length typically take 30 days, but Erickson spent Friday volunteering his boat and crew for the net removal.

Organized by Florida Gulf Coast University’s Vester Field Marine Station near Bonita Beach, Friday’s work included several dives to determine exactly where the reef and net were located followed by several attempts to pull the fishing gear from about 40 feet of water.

Divers from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and marine officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission helped in the retrieval.

Visibility at the bottom was less than a foot, the divers said, which meant they could only see a few inches in front of their dive masks.

The sheriff’s office and Vester divers descended to the illegal reef — a massive pile of concrete poles that are about 18-inches wide and 20-feet long.

Vester director Bob Wasno said the illegal reef is about 40 feet in length and width and is not marked on any boating charts.

“Our concerns are making sure this potential killing field is removed, the shrimper get back his gear and the sheriff’s officers get a chance to dive and practice their skills,” Wasno said.

Fishermen at the reef said they have been fishing it for at least three or four years, but it’s almost impossible to determine who dumped the mound of concrete in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s sitting in about 40 feet of water and comes within about 20 feet or so of the surface, divers said.

Lee County dive team leader Jeremiah Marcotte said sheriff’s office divers respond to about two to three calls a month, ranging from body recovery in the Gulf of Mexico to evidence recovery.

“It’s an environmental concern and you don’t want any divers getting caught in it,” Marcotte said. “And sea turtle nesting season is coming up, and they’re endangered.”

Wasno said the reef will soon be marked on navigational charts and will be named after the Vester Marine Field Station.