|Conch. It looks better in chowder form.|
It's a hard conch life for Robert Fortunato.
Federal prosecutors announced that the 55-year-old Palm Beach County resident has been sentenced to a year of probation and will give up his 15-foot Mako boat for illegally importing 1,500 pounds of queen conch from the Bahamas.
According to a criminal complaint, Customs and Border Protection officers stopped Fortunato's boat in February near Jupiter Inlet.
Fortunato informed the officers that he and a buddy were coming back from Grand Cay, Bahamas, and said he had no plants or animals or drugs or weapons or wads of cash or other illicit items Border Protection folks aren't fond of.
He was lying.
When officers searched the boat, they found 1,500 pounds of Queen Conch. The delectable sea snail was "concealed in every compartment on the vessel," according to court documents.
It's not illegal to bring back conch, and Fortunato had a permit to do so. The problem was that he was allowed to bring back only six at a time. The quantity of conch on the boat was "vastly in excess of six," according to court documents.
A typical conch chowder recipe calls for two cups conch meat. Chances are Fortunato wasn't some chowder gourmand; he more likely planned to offload the haul to local fishmongers.