May 16, 2011
A severely entangled and dead loggerhead sea turtle was found recently in an abandoned “cast gill net” on a Peck Lake beach where commercial netters have taken tons of Spanish mackerel.
Loggerhead turtle and Spanish mackerel killed by an abandoned gillnet. "We thought these kinds of problems were resloved by the net ban, "said Gary Appelson, Policy Coordinator for the Sea Turtle Survival League.
Decaying mackerel also were tangled in the same net. On another day in January a different sea turtle was discovered floating dead amidst the cast netting.
Divers also have discovered lobsters and other marine life in a large number of the entanglement nets found in the St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park just south of Stuart. Many of the lost nets have been kept as evidence of damage to the park bottom.
Meanwhile, state authorities have failed to address the gill netting because of claims that the net ban of 1995 made an exception, however unintended, whereby cast nets could be configured as gill nets as long as they are hand-thrown.
The so-called cast gill nets did not exist at the time of the net ban amendment campaign and vote.
Unlike standard cast nets, the Peck Lake gilling gear is modified to exclude braille lines and a horn which traditionally are used to enclose fish rather than entangle/gill them.
The cast net “loophole” allows monofilament nets to bring up gilled mackerel dozens at a time, exactly as they were taken prior to the gillnet ban. As in old gill net days, the meshes are hung straight while the fish are picked loose.
“These nets may be a little smaller, but everything's just the same as with the outlawed gear,” said one veteran angler.
The gear is especially effective in the Peck Lake area which is said to host the largest winter concentration of mackerel in memory.
A number of Stuart-area persons are urging the state to close the cast gill net loophole via the amendment's provision that new state laws may be “more restrictive” than the constitution, completely aside from the dispute over cast net interpretations.
One approach would be to define cast net specifications to include braille lines and a horn and limit stretched mesh size to the same two inches required for non-entanglement nets. The cast gill nets use 3 1/4-inch mesh. Still another suggested change would prohibit commercial cast nets from being thrown in the Inlet Park due to damage to the reef bottom and sea turtles.
A viable hook-and-line fishery for mackerel would substitute for the nets, say numerous local residents.
A failure to stop cast gill nets and other uses of certain netting gear has prompted some to suggest that Florida should go ahead and adopt the Texas approach to commercial netting. Zero.
Fish taken in nets in Texas may not be sold.