ICE searching shrimp boats docked at Mayport, Fernandina

Sister of boat owners say search resulted from tip of drugs, guns on board

By Destiny McKeiver - Multi-media journalist

MAYPORT, Fla. - A shrimping boat docked at Mayport and another at Fernandina Beach were searched Wednesday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office dive team and at least one officer of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were assisting in the Mayport search of the Mattie Fay at the dock of Safe Harbor Seafood, next to the U.S. Coast Guard Station. The Captain A.B. was the boat being searched in Fernandina.

The two shrimping boats are owned by brothers, who had just returned from Key West after at least 20 days at sea. Leon Reid runs Mattie Fay and Ricky Armstrong runs Captain A.B.

One of the captains told News4Jax that a customs officer called the searches routine checks, but he and his family seemed to think otherwise, saying there was nothing "routine" about it.

“They have searched the boats. They've had dogs on the boats. They had the dive team underneath the boats,” said Rhonda Armstrong, the captains' sister.

The captains were told by ICE officials to dock immediately when they returned and then their boats were raided.
Reid said he was told by investigators that both boats were undergoing routine inspection, but he said his normal inspections aren't as in-depth and don't require his phone being taken and shrimp being dumped.

“It upsets me,” Rhonda Armstrong said. “My brothers, they're hard workers. They've done this their whole lives. Our fathers did this. This is what our family does.”

FWC officials said the Captain A.B. was cited for taking lobster out of season.

“They're coming home. They're coming in from another place. They want to get off the boat and come home, but somebody else had other plans for them,” Armstrong said.

Reid said both boats passed inspection. 

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