ST. MARKS, Fla. — Commercial netting interests are once again trying to manipulate the State into allowing larger mesh sizes in fishing nets and improperly using them as “gill nets,” the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida said today.
The commercial fisherman say that as a result of the States regulations on net mesh size, the current nets are catching primarily juvenile fish before they have the chance to mature into adult fish.
The reality, however, is that these commercial fisherman are catching more mullet than they can sell. Earlier this year there was approximately 60,000 pounds of dead mullet found floating off Florida’s coast with just the roe taken out. With the market price around 73 cents a pound it cannot withstand any more mullet in the stores or the price would plummet and there would be no profit.
In November 1994, an overwhelming 72 percent of Floridians voted yes on the constitutional amendment limiting marine net fishing. The amendment includes both a prohibition on the use of gill and entangling nets in all state waters and a size limit on other nets. Although the restrictions have been in place for 17 years, there are still factions within the commercial industry who refuse to accept the legal reality of the constitutional prohibition on gill nets.
Since 1994, there have been numerous lawsuits, attempts to create enforcement loopholes, and outright scams all designed to invalidate or circumvent provisions of the constitutional amendment. All have failed.
The commercial fishermen have gone to court again in an attempt to overturn key provisions in the 1994 net ban. Hoping to convince Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford of their side of the issue, a St. Marks commercial mullet fisherman took to the waters early one Friday morning to give the Judge a demonstration of the way they fish their nets. The commercial boat was followed by an FWC boat that was transporting Judge Fulford. However, he didn’t show her the whole picture.
According to the Coastal Conservation Association, the fisherman spent unnecessary time searching in the St. Mark’s River inlets, creeks and bays to locate the perfectly sized fish to prove his point. When he found the right spot and cast the nets, he retrieved them like a gill net, instead of properly like a seine net, which caused more of the small fish to be caught in the net and very few legal size fish were caught. Only three net sets were made in about two and a half hours. This manipulated presentation to the judge depicted the idea that the nets are inadequate and the State needs to allow larger mesh netting.
“The Florida Legislature, Florida courts and state agencies have upheld the clear intent of Florida voters,” said Ted Forsgren, Special Advisor to CCA Florida. “It is imperative that Judge Fulford thoroughly reviews all the previous legal decisions and conclusions of law and respect the citizen mandate and constitutional ban on gill nets.”
Commercial net fishers have other legal options to catch mullet. Many use hand-thrown cast nets in conjunction with seine nets. The seine nets with two-inch or less mesh corral the fish, which are then caught by the cast nets. Cast nets are also used during fall migrations in rivers and bays when mullet are aggregated in large schools. Landings data confirms the viability of using cast nets and other legal nets. In the four-county area of Wakulla, Franklin, Jefferson and Dixie County commercial fishermen landed 493,614 pounds of mullet in 2011 and 579,027 pounds in 2010. Statewide more than 12.5 million pounds of mullet were landed in 2011.
–– Source: CCA Florida