Commercial fishermen have been in court fighting the way the state enforces the net ban since it became law 10 years ago.
They argue the state is forcing them to use a net that kills more fish than it saves, and now an appeals court ruling is muddying the waters.
Mullet fishermen are angry and they have been for the last decade. In 1994, voters banned any net larger than 500 square feet. The question ever since has been what size should the squares, or mesh, inside that 500 square feet be? One net has one-inch squares. It’s legal. Anything else isn’t.
Mullet fishermen say the net kills too many little fish that would get away if the mesh size were bigger, say two or three inches.
Fisherman Freddie Kilgore of Apalachicola showed the problem.
“If you kill the baby fish, eventually they’ll die out. See how these little things do? He’s dead by the time you try to unwrap it. You wasted your time; it’s just a dead fish. We don’t want a bigger, longer net. Just a bigger mesh size to catch fish you can put in a market.”
Now the First District Court of Appeals has a ruling that has muddied the waters. Three fishermen convicted of using an illegal net in south Florida have had their convictions reversed.
Lawyers are still reviewing the case, but the ruling seems to suggest a 500 square foot net is a 500 square foot net and the mesh size inside is irrelevant.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission has yet to see the court ruling and says it will study its implications for enforcement statewide.
In the Big Bend, fisherman Ronald Crum says the ruling could allow smaller mesh size which he says could result in more juvenile fish dying. Voters approved the net ban by an overwhelming majority in 1994 and it took effect on July 1, 1995.
1944 NET BAN VOTE:
YES 2,876,091 71.7%
NO 1,135,110 28.3%