Once again a small group of commercial netters are trying to get the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to allow larger mesh sizes in nets so they can be used as gill nets. The netters are now going to local county commissions and asking them to approve resolutions to the FWC urging them to increase the allowable mesh size. The netting group is not telling the whole story.
“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 measures being pushed by the netting group include a resolution which would allow net fishers to use a larger size mesh in their nets. However; all the current and best scientific information and testimony indicates that marine nets with mesh sizes exceeding two inches are gill nets. The critical factor in determining whether a net is a seine net or a gill net is mesh size. Modifying regulations to allow nets which exceed two inches stretched mesh would not be allowed by the net limitation amendment. Net studies, expert testimony and all court cases agree on that point.
In November 1994 an overwhelming 72 percent of Florida’s voters said yes to 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 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.
The last time the netting group went to the FWC in 2008 their request to increase the mesh sizes was again rejected by the Commission. Here are two 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”.
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 Florida Legislature, Florida Courts, and state agencies have upheld the clear intent of Florida voters.
“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.