January 19, 2020
There was no reverse gear at Karl Wickstrom's helm. During the last year of his life, I tried getting him to reflect on his success in publishing, his work promoting fisheries reform, his legacy of defending citizens' access to waters, many other accomplishments. Nope. He would tell a funny story … and then field a phone call on plans to fix the Everglades.
Doctors said heart failure took him. I figured the tides took him, as I never saw that heart give out.
No doubt Karl would've devoted this column to proposing some fresh initiative. That the vote implementing Florida's constitutional net-limitation amendment (his idea!) took place this month exactly 25 years ago, would've warranted maybe a one-liner.
“The people stepped in where the politicians had feared to tread.”
Sorry, Karl. I'm looking back. And, I'm assigning the work to you.
Here's an abridged version of an editorial Karl wrote for the December 1994 issue of Florida Sportsman. He was reflecting on the November 8 vote which ordered large-scale netting out of state coastal waters. He entitled it “Victory for the Sea.”
…It was a landslide victory … a clear mandate from the people, a remarkable statement for conservation that will send repercussions through the halls of government not only in Florida, but in other states and on a federal level.
The people stepped in where the politicians had feared to tread, putting the long-term health of marine fish ahead of quick, short-lived profits made on ever-dwindling stocks. The Save Our Sealife constitutional amendment… prohibits the use of any entanglement net for the taking of saltwater species in any state waters. It also requires that bigger, seinetype nets of more than 500 square feet of mesh be deployed outside of one mile from shore on the Atlantic coast and three miles on the Gulf of Mexico coast.
Virtually all areas of the state gave resounding numbers of yes votes for Amendment 3. The overall victory margin was well over two to one, far more than the simple majority required.
The winning margin for S.O.S. was especially significant because conservationists had to overcome a blitz of patently false publicity from net spokesmen… propaganda financed mostly by interests seeking to continue the many-million-dollar roe mullet sales they developed in Florida.
Victory for S.O.S. at the polls... had roots going back more than a decade as citizens on the water complained of excessive net catches and declining fish populations. For the most part, their observations were systematically discounted and ignored by the state's management system until the dire status of the stocks became too obvious to overlook any longer.
Florida Sportsman and other entities, principally the Florida Conservation Association, launched a “Ban the Nets” campaign in March of 1992 with hopes that the Marine Fisheries Commission, Governor and Cabinet and/or the Legislature would stop overfishing by high-volume gear. Although numerous proposals made it to the starting gate, every effort was snuffed out at one level or another.
Facing no other alternative, conservationists launched the Save our Sealife amendment campaign in October of 1992. Weeks later, volunteers from FCA and other groups fanned out to several hundred precincts in the general election, collecting 201,000 voter-petition signatures.
Many of those same volunteers—and many more—hit the precincts and highways on this Nov. 8, freely giving their time and resources to a cause that obviously meant a great deal to them…
Other organizations, besides the FCA, that were part of the original coalition were the Florida Wildlife Federation, Florida League of Anglers, Coalition of Fishing Clubs, Caribbean Conservation Association and Tropical Audubon Society.
The S.O.S. Committee is, at about the very time you read this, folding its tent, going out of existence. Its sole purpose under the S.O.S. charter was to conduct the amendment campaign.
Gone, as they say, but not forgotten.
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine November 2019