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Date of Issue: December 26, 2007

Grouper 'bust' a small one

The Lisa Belle is back fishing the Gulf of Mexico for grouper, in fact never wasn’t legally fishing, and a report of a major “bust” was just flat wrong.

That’s the word from the A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez, which acts as homeport to the Lisa Belle and her captain, Terry Britton. A spokesperson for the fish house said last week’s incident was a tempest in a teapot based on an erroneous TV news report.

What happened was that the U.S. Coast Guard made a random stop of a fishing vessel, not an unusual event, in this case the Belle. “She wasn’t doing anything illegal, it was just a random check,” the spokesperson said.

The Coast Guard pulled the boat’s fishing gear from the Gulf waters and reportedly found some of the hooks baited with chunks of grouper, evidently from undersize fish that died in the catching. Using grouper as bait is illegal.

Then, routinely inspecting the boat, the Coast Guard found that the required satellite beacon registration was not aboard and that some emergency flares were older than acceptable. The captain was told to correct those flaws, issued a ticket for grouper-bait violation, and the boat was sent home to Cortez.

There it delivered its catch to the fish house – 5,000 pounds of grouper - all perfectly legal.