Too Valuable to Sell

It’s been a dangerous period for one of Florida’s most important fishes, the spotted seatrout, commonly just called trout.

First, the state virtually doubled the commercial take of trout and came within a whisker of allowing seine nets back in the fishery.

And then a rural north Florida judge attempted to upset the historic Gillnet Ban, which would have clobbered trout by the ton.

So instead of moving forward in making trout a no-sale gamefish, we suffered a bouncy ride.

Now it’s time to smooth out the road and take the price tag off all trout for good. For the moment we can breathe a little easier.
As Editor Jeff Weakley notes, Florida anglers were relieved this summer when a First District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s attack on the state’s constitutional ban of entangling nets in state waters.

Legal footing for the familiar and hugely successful 1995 net-limitation amendment had been temporarily threatened when a trial-level judge caved to phony claims by a small group of net-fishers wanting to use larger mesh to—get this—protect baby fish.

Commenting on the recent appeals court opinion, Coastal Conservation Association Florida cited for special thanks Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Glogau and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), “for tireless efforts on this case and for protecting Florida’s saltwater fisheries,” in the words of CCA Florida Executive Director Brian Gorski.

Despite the good news, the defense of Florida’s netting laws will continue to merit vigilance. And while the FWC has a mostly favorable record of conserving state-waters marine resources, the agency isn’t immune to occasional lapses in judgment.

Worth pointing out, as we enter September, is the continued, high-volume take of spotted seatrout by commercial fishers. This is part of a season extension, which varies around the state, granted by the FWC in 2012, adding two months to the previous three-month commercial season. The trout fishers, who may keep up to 75 seatrout per person between 15 and 24 inches, may also combine two bag limits.

One other proposed liberalization of market trout fishing the FWC finally dropped from earlier plans was an allowance for seine-net “bycatch” of up to 75 seatrout.

Only after vocal outrage from sportfishermen around the state did the FWC recognize that the bycatch provision was nothing more than a ruse to circumvent the intention of net-limitation laws.

As to the consequences of 150-trout per boat catches, many veteran anglers are justifiably concerned. The Indian River Lagoon watershed, for instance, has suffered declines in vital trout habitat in recent years, while commercial seatrout landings spiked to levels not seen since the heavy gillnetting years preceding the 1994 net ban.

The future, we hope, will see the end of all marketing of this great sportfish, for the benefit of most citizens and the resource itself.

Karl Wickstrom

First Published Florida Sportsman Sept. 2014