Florida’s coastal waters remain free of commercial gill net catches after a sudden flurry of legal entanglements had opened and then slammed shut the door to the long-banned large-scale netting.
But the latest challenge to the state’s 18-year-old gillnet prohibition is likely to grind on for some months in the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Meanwhile, barring an unforeseen change, entangling gear is unlawful. Agents have been instructed to apprehend any violators.
The surprise netting imbroglio had erupted when a rural circuit court judge ruled that the net-ban amendment and laws implementing it are unlawful and not to be enforced. Further, Judge Jackie Fulford refused to allow a standard “stay,” or postponement of her finding pending appeal, and a number of gillnetters rushed into action as a lucrative roe mullet season blossomed.
The appeal court, however, overturned Fulford without comment, quieting the waters while appellate maneuvers press on with potential motions and lengthy deliberations.
“We fully expect the net ban to survive this latest challenge just as similar claims have been rejected numerous times in the past,” said Karl Wickstrom, former chair of the Save Our Sealife Committee that sponsored the campaign with the Florida Conservation Association (now the Coastal Conservation Assn.) and a number of other groups.
Jim Williams, president of CCA Florida, and Ted Forsgren, veteran CCA advocate, commended state authorities for quickly contesting Judge Fulford’s decisions and urged citizens to support the constitutional net ban amendment on all levels.
“In our view it is critical for the citizens of Florida to make it known to their representatives in the legislature and the Governor’s office that we will not stand for any kind of settlement that allows gill nets back in the water. We need the State to stand firm and defend the Florida Constitution. We should encourage all of our constituents to write and call so that our elected officials are clear where we stand on gill netting. Remember, our current FWC Commissioners mostly have not lived through the battles of the ‘90’s and are not so familiar with just how destructive these nets are to the entire fishery,” added Williams.