On May 15, the First District Court of Appeals heard arguments on a local judge’s ruling that overturns Florida’s 20 year old Constitutional Amendment limiting marine net fishing. The three judge panel questioned lawyers representing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Wakulla Fisherman’s Association. The Court’s ruling will likely come between July and August 2014.
The truth is that commercial gill net fishermen want to use these entangling nets to take the large egg laden breeder mullet. The damage done by this practice represents a double whammy to the mullet population and ultimately to many other species. Mullet is a staple food fish for other species. Snook, Redfish, Trout, Tarpon, and Snapper feed on “baby” mullet. When netters demolish the breeder population, the ability to reproduce is decimated and they destroy eggs they are carrying, thus there are fewer fish to grow up and breed. In the case of nets with a two inch mesh size, larger fish cannot get their head through the mesh and do not become entangled, allowing many more of this critical breeding population to survive. The intent the FWC rule defining gill nets by limiting the mesh size was to allow for a commercially feasible net that would not gill fish, thus allowing net fishermen to take enough fish to maintain their livelihood.
In November of 1994, 72% of Florida voted for 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 nearly 20 years, there are still small factions within the commercial fishing industry that refuse to accept the legal reality that the constitutional prohibition on gill nets means no gill nets.
Numerous administrative challenges and lawsuits have been filed over the last 20 years in an effort to challenge these regulations and allow the use of gill nets which are contrary to the Amendment Court decisions have upheld the implementing rules which established a two inch mesh size stretched mesh size as the “bright line distinction” between a legal seine net and an illegal gill net. The size was established based on the historic mesh sizes prior to the gill net ban. The Courts ruled that the 2 inch maximum size for seine nets was “historically based, rational and practical”.
CCA Florida will continue to be outspoken advocates and protectors of the Constitutional Amendment that has salvaged Florida’s marine fisheries from overzealous gill netting and has helped the recreational fishery become a multibillion dollar economic impact to Florida’s economy. CCA will help protect the mature breeder fish and their ability to spawn and keep mullet populations thriving and ensure that Redfish, Snook, Sea trout, Grouper, and other shallow water predators have forage fish to consume throughout their lifecycle.