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Florida Sportsman: A Legacy on the Conservation Front Lines

Florida Sportsman: A Legacy on the Conservation Front Lines

Our fisheries record is second to none.

Florida Sportsman has always been more than just entertainment. Stories were about fishing, hunting and conservation, but hard-hitting editorials became powerful vehicles for targeting commercial fishing interests and those exerting improper influence on marine laws and regulations.

Florida Sportsman has been the state's primary voice for fisheries conservation and wildlife advocacy since 1969. Through every issue, online coverage, social media posts, television shows, podcasts and more FS has been on the Conservation Front Lines, covering key topics, providing hard-hitting insights and leadership.

Some of the highlights:

NET BAN

The campaign needed 429,428 validated signatures to get the amendment on the ballot; it collected 520,000.

In Karl Wickstrom’s “Openers” column in early 1991 he first suggested a ban on destructive gill nets in coastal waters, and included a coupon readers could return if they agreed. He was overwhelmed–and heartened–by the response and support, and the “Save Our Sealife” campaign was born.

In November 1994 an overwhelming 72 percent of Florida voters–close to three million–said “yes” to the constitutional amendment, and on July 1, 1995 the gill and entanglement net ban took effect. The net ban not only revitalized inshore fishing for millions of residents and tourists, but it also showed many frustrated with government's inability to act on abuses that they could “fight city hall” and win. In subsequent years there have been lawsuits and attempts to create enforcement loopholes, yet the mandate of voters–Florida Constitution Article X, Section 16(1): “No gill or entangling nets shall be used in any Florida waters”–has been upheld.

SAVING ESTUARIES

The sugar industry's footprint on the Everglades is huge. Their massive agricultural areas are one of the biggest targets for Everglades restoration efforts.

Of all the campaigns Florida Sportsman has championed, none has endured so long as the fight to save the estuaries. Unlike net bans and calls for unified wildlife management, the solution to Florida's water woes—while basic as gravity—has proven elusive, mired in politics. Adult redfish are protected from nets, but what of the larval fish? What of their forage? What of the seagrasses that convert sunlight into energy?

From an early editorial chastising the “tinkerings” of the South Florida Water Management District, in 1981: “And so goes the continuing water-grab game as water managers (who basically represent ag interests) con well-meaning media people into believing that all we need do is tinker further… a new canal here, a levee there and a backpump gadget over yonder. The truth is that water flowing naturally to sea, far from being wasted, is the precious lifeblood of estuarial nurseries. A high percentage of man's fisheries, commercial as well as sport, are dependent on just such places.”

New media, same mission: As the magazine expanded into digital platforms and television Karl brought his sensibilities into contributions such as the “Just a Conservation Minute” segment on Florida Sportsman TV (2004-2011). Viewers learned of the plight of the bluefin, threats to fishing access, snapper mismanagement, and other vital subjects.  

And then a television show, Florida Sportsman Watermen, (2019-2020) which focused exclusively on Florida’s water quality issues.


GAMEFISH STATUS FOR REDFISH

Red hatted anglers showed out in Tallahassee to rally for no-sale status for redfish, and refused to be ignored.

In the fall of 1988, Karl Wickstrom wrote asking one out of every 500 anglers to visit Tallahassee and urge the Governor and Cabinet to approve no-sale status for reds. They listened, and—at long last—officials responded.

 In 1989, largely through Florida Sportsman's leadership, redfish were accorded no-sale gamefish status, capping a long-running political battle. The change triggered growth of the species into one of the state's most valued fisheries.

ALLOCATION ISSUES

In countless columns and editorials Florida Sportsman derided allocation models which granted commercial fishers huge landings while restricting private citizen's access.

Florida Sportsman reasoned: “No one has any ‘right' to take our commonly owned or managed wild animals in great quantities while the next man on the beach is limited to a single fish or two. Moreover, the privilege of marketing these animals should be subject to restrictions or prohibition when their populations decline, or when there is a more valuable use to society as a whole.”

Florida Sportsman constantly challenged allocations which often gave commercial use far in excess of its relative value. The “best use” of a sustainable fishery, economically and socially, must be given first priority, which is to the recreational anglers.

In 2021 Florida Sportsman led a petition drive to save the dolphin fishery, launching the SaveTheMahi campaign.  The primary goals of the campaign were to limit the recreational catch from a vessel limit of 60-fish to 30 while creating a 2,000 pound daily trip limit for commercial boats who at the time had no limit.


Florida Sportsman fought against NOAA's “catch shares” scheme, which split up types of recreational fishing and increase commercialization also is under attack by Florida Sportsman.  Unfortunately, in recent years, federal councils have actually moved toward cementing commercial allocations for certain high-dollar species

Florida Sportsman has led the attack against the federal government's total closure of Atlantic red snapper fishing as well as other excessive restrictions based on extremely controversial science. “It's astounding to see public property given away, without bidding and at no cost, permanently,” Karl wrote in January 2008, commenting about Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs).

NO FISHING ZONES

The magazine and its multi-media components fights year after year against complete “no fishing zones” fostered by the federal government under the guise of ecological reserves and other names that prevent even family-level non-commercial traditional angling.


UNFISHABLE WATERS

Florida Sportsman has been bringing attention to the harmful affects of mining phosphate in Florida beginning in 1970’s and continues to drive angler support with a series of features following the Piney Point disaster and massive red tide event of 2021.

In its first years, Florida Sportsman helped lead the fight to stop the Cross-Florida Barge Canal.

In 2020 Florida Sportsman led an effort while working with a non profit group called VoteWater to tackle the political problem of managing Florida’s water with a political solution.  The goal was to pressure lawmakers to stay away from taking political contributions from the state’s leading polluters; sugar, phosphate and utilities.

ELIMINATE COMMERCIAL NETTING IN EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK

Then, in the ‘70s, FS supported a successful campaign to eliminate commercial netting from the Everglades National Park. Importantly, this did not ban recreational fishing in the park. Regulations there became what many believe to be the best fisheries laws in the world today.

LONGLINES AND FISHTRAPS 

Florida Sportsman’s coverage helped spur action on indiscriminate fishing gear: a 1991 ban on fish traps in South Atlantic waters. Area closure on longlines in critical swordfish nurseries, 2000. Phaseout (better late than never?) of traps in the Gulf by 2007.

“Hopefully, the ugly fishtrap chapter can be a how-not-to lesson in the feds' long book of failures—and some belated successes,” wrote Karl, in October 1991.

FISHING LICENSES FOR FLORIDA ANGLERS

Florida's recreational anglers had been overwhelmed by commercial influence in Tallahassee. FS pushed for a recreational fishing license to give recreational fishing both funding and political clout. Its passage in 1991 prompted the Miami Herald to report that Floridians owed Florida Sportsman a vote of thanks for the legislation.  License revenues fund habitat enhancement, science and law enforcement—and function as a mulitiplier by qualifying Florida for added federal excise tax monies.

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FINANCIAL CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

Through the 1980s, Florida Sportsman railed against decisions made by a Marine Fisheries Commission at the beck and call of legislators. On some issues, the MFC was led from the inside by persons with ties to commercial fishing. Meanwhile, the state Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, an independent authority, demonstrated effective management of largemouth bass, deer, turkey and other non-commercial animals. In 1998, the agencies would merge. At the federal level, conflicts of interest remain a vexing problem and warrant ongoing attention. Fox in the henhouse.

I’M A FLORIDA SPORTSMAN

Florida Sportsman's conservation ethic extends to its associated entities. That especially applies to the FS reader who may state with pride that “I am a Florida Sportsman.”

Florida Sportsman pledges to continue its tradition of dedicated work for conservation and thanks readers and supporters who have made progress possible.

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