Commercial netters are making yet another plea for a change in regulations that would essentially allow them to fish with gill nets in Florida inshore waters.
Changes the netters are campaigning would increase allowable net-mesh size to larger than two inches, which effectively would make those nets gill nets.
Gill nets were outlawed by an amendment to the state constitution in 1994, passed by three quarters of the state's registered voters. The results were a drastic improvement in inshore fish populations, and a virtual explosion in the bait upon which the food chain depends.
Since 1994, there have been numerous attempts to exploit loopholes and otherwise circumvent the intent of the constitutional initiative. All have failed. The Florida Legislature, Florida Courts, and state agencies have upheld the clear intent of Florida voters.
The netters are now going through local county commissions and asking them to approve resolutions to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that would increase the allowable mesh size. As in the past, their efforts are closely monitored and resisted by Costal Conservation Association, Florida.
“CCA Florida has sent letters to the Governor’s Office and to all coastal County Commissioners providing information regarding the prohibition on the use of gill nets”, said Jeff Miller, CCA Florida Chairman of the Board. “We are concerned that Collier and other county commissions are not familiar with the history of FWC actions and the legal findings of fact in the previous lawsuits, so we have prepared a package of information on the past decisions that we have sent to the coastal County Commissions”.
The Net Ban 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 16 years, there are still factions within the commercial industry who refuse to accept the legal reality that the constitutional prohibition on gill nets means no gill nets.
Netters approached the FWC in 2008 with a request to increase the mesh sizes and the request was rejected by the Commission. Here are a few of the strong comments made by Commissioners at that meeting:
“This is not a science question, the resource has rebounded. This constitutional amendment passed by a remarkable margin and our predecessors created a bright line definition, done objectively, and upheld in litigation,” said FWC Commissioner Ken Wright. “I am adamantly in favor of keeping the current two inch regulation. We are Trustees of a decision and bound to follow the will of the people”.
“Going to a larger mesh size has the intent of creating a gill net. We can’t point to a dog and call it a cat,” said FWC Commissioner Brian Yablonski. “We are bound by duty to the law and must respect the rule of law”.
“CCA Florida will continue to be the outspoken advocate and protector of the Constitutional Amendment which prohibits the use of gill nets and other damaging nets,” said CCA Florida Chairman Jeff Miller.