ST. PETERSBURG -- Max Mayfield, the former director of the National Hurricane Center, is under investigation by his former employer for possibly violating fishing laws.
Mayfield caught a 200-pound Goliath grouper while fishing with friends in the Gulf of Mexico a few days after his retirement Jan.1. The boat captain and crew slid the grouper into the boat through a door in the back, unhooked it, snapped a few celebratory photos and slid it back into the water. It swam away.
Such photographs are common fare in fishing magazines, but since Goliath is a protected species, bringing one into the boat is illegal, even if just for a few minutes. Doing so can damage a protective slime that covers the fish.
Mayfield, 58, said Monday that he had no idea he had done anything wrong until newspapers published a photo of the catch and someone complained to the National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, which also oversees the National Hurricane Center.
"I love to fish, but I haven't done any in a long time. I don't know the rules," Mayfield said. "Nobody on that boat knew the rules."
Tracey Dunn, who oversees federal fishing enforcement in Florida, would not discuss specifics of Maxwell's grouper because it is under review by the fisheries service's general counsel. Sanctions can range from a written reprimand to a civil fine.
Though lack of knowledge about rules is not a defense, Dunn said, federal agents often focus their investigation more on boat captains or other experienced fishermen.
The boat in question was the 34-foot Bud & Mary, owned and captained by Richard Stanczyk, who operates a marina in Islamorada. He says he has fished the Keys for 29 years and never heard that putting a Goliath in the boat temporarily is illegal.
Stanczyk holds a charter captain's license but said he rarely takes out clients.
Mayfield is a friend, Stanczyk said, and the trip was for fun, not hire. Mayfield's son and three others also went along.