If you happen to find a bale of cocaine floating at sea, it's probably best you don't take it with you and try to sell it. That's the message that one self-proclaimed "hard-working" fisherman from Florida now wants to give other people as he faces life in prison for drug distribution.

It was in January 2016 when Thomas Breeding, 32, chanced upon a floating 20kg package of cocaine while fishing 50 miles off the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Having taken it on board, in a life-changing decision he decided against handing over the illegal contraband to police.

Breeding instead set up a drug-distribution network with four other individuals to try and cash in on the potentially lucrative find – thought to have been thrown into the water by drug traffickers trying to escape law-enforcement patrols.

But the plan went badly wrong, and the men were arrested last summer on charges of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. They all pleaded guilty and are set for sentencing in February.

"This changed my life and way of thinking, and also made me aware of some of the dangers that can be found off shore in the Gulf," Breeding recently wrote in a letter to The Panama City News Herald from Washington County Jail. "I would like to let the public know the dangers and what not to do if this situation comes about."

Breeding, who has been convicted of several other drug and gun offenses in the past, has also been charged as a felon unlawfully transporting a firearm in connection with the incident. He could face a fine of up to $4.25m (£3.37m), according to court records seen by the Herald.

In his letter from jail, Breeding said he was around 50 miles out at sea south of Panama City when he discovered the cocaine.

"I was working as a long-line boat captain out of Panama City when I found a package containing 20 kilos of cocaine," he wrote. "I do not know where the drugs came from and haven't ever been involved in the drug trade before. I was just a hard-working, young, commercial fisherman."

Breeding is said to have "fronted" portions of the cocaine to co-defendants Benjamin Bailey McGraw, Jeremy Patrick Hubbard, Richard Kenneth Helms Jr and Jessica Renee Ashbaker, who then sold the drug and passed on money to Breeding. It's unclear how Breeding came to be caught. He was reportedly arrested while driving in Walton County with a firearm in his vehicle.

He is to be sentenced with his co-defendants on 16 February.