Once again a small group of commercial netters are trying to get the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to allow larger mesh sizes in nets so they can be used as gill nets. Circuit Court Judge Jackie Lee Fulford has issued a ruling that the use of net mesh size to define the difference between an illegal gill net and a legal seine net is a “legal absurdity” and has enjoined the enforcement of the Constitutional Amendment and the FWC rules implementing it!
“Judge Fulford has simply ignored almost 18 years of legal precedent on the issue and offered her own opinion” said Jim Williams, CCA Florida Chairman. “The 2 inch mesh size used by the FWC to define and clarify the difference between illegal gill nets and legal seine nets has resolved previous enforcement issues and successfully maintained the full intent of the Constitutional Amendment.”
In November of 1994 an overwhelming 72% of Florida 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 18 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 18 years in an effort to challenge these regulations and allow the use nets that are currently outlawed. All of the attempts have failed as the Courts have supported the clear intent of the Constitutional Amendment. Early Court decisions have upheld the implementing rules which established a 2 inch 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 enactment of the gill net ban. The Courts ruled that the 2 inch maximum size for seine nets was “historically based, rational and practical”.
“The commercial net fishermen in Wakulla County raised concerns about the viability of the allowable cast nets and seines with the 2 inch mesh to catch mullet; however, the commercial landing data shows a very different story” said CCA Florida’s Ted Forsgren. Landings data from the FWC indicate that mullet landings in Wakulla, Franklin, Jefferson, and Dixie Counties were 579,527 pounds in 2010 and 493,614 pounds in 2011. Total statewide landings of mullet in 2011 were 12.5 million pounds.
The Constitutional Amendment and the implementing rules of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have brought inshore finfish populations to high levels of abundance. “Populations of mullet, redfish, sea trout and other fisheries are at all time highs and the increased abundance has allowed the FWC to reduce take restrictions on a number of species” said Forsgren.
“CCA Florida will continue to be the outspoken advocate and protector of the Constitutional Amendment which has protected Florida’s marine fisheries and the multibillion dollar economic impact to Florida’s economy,” said CCA Florida Chairman Jim Williams.