Next time you're collecting shells at the beach, be sure to look inside. If you accidentally carry off a protected species, you could face jail time.

The Miami Herald reports that Diana Fiscal-Gonzalez of Dallas has been sentenced to serve 15 days in jail and six months probation for collecting 40 queen conch shells on a Key West, Florida beach.

Apparently, the shells still had animals inside, and those little creatures are a protected species of mollusks.

Gonzalez collected the shells with the help of several children, and intended to give them away as gifts. It seems like an innocent mistake to any outside observer, unless that observer is an anonymous tipster to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Yes, Gonzalez was called in by a concerned citizen and arrested by FWC Officer John Martino, who said most of the creatures were still alive when he returned them to the ocean.

Gonzalez must now appear in court on August 10 to begin her jail sentence. She'll also have to pay a $500 fine and $268 in court costs. The one piece of good(ish) news is that the judge in the case was kind enough to withhold adjudication, so she won't have a criminal conviction on her record. How thoughtful.


Don't get me wrong. I'm all for protecting endangered and at-risk species. However, I have some questions here.

First, were there any signs posted warning tourists not to collect the shells?

Second, couldn't the "anonymous tipster" have politely informed Gonzalez that her actions were illegal instead of just immediately reporting her? If they weren't decent enough to do so, couldn't the FWC officer have done so? Maybe all of the mollusks might have lived and been safely returned to their habitat had the caller acted quickly and courteously.

Third, did the judge have any other sentencing options? We see judges handing out creative sentences all the time. Here's an idea: Ask Gonzales to participate in a video PSA about the protected mollusks. Not in a humiliating way, mind you; in a "I was vising from out of state and had no idea. Here's how to admire these shells without endangering their occupants or yourself" way.



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