The 20th anniversary of a constitutional amendment that saved Florida’s inshore fish and ecosystems will be celebrated in 2014. It banned the use of gill nets, which were wiping out mullet, an important forage species, while obliterating snook, redfish, and other game fish as bycatch.
But encouraged by a high price for mullet roe in foreign markets, commercial fishermen continue to try to overturn the ban. And their latest effort succeeded temporarily, as a Leon County judge agreed with their arguments.
Fortunately, a higher court allowed the ban to stay in place as this latest challenge works its way through the state’s judicial system.
“Great news for now,” said Brian Gorski, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association Florida. “It’s still long from over.”
Meanwhile, Jim Donofrio of the Recreational Fishing Alliance said that anglers are ready to fight for the amendment that was approved of by 72 percent of Florida voters.
"Talk about awakening a sleeping giant. This judge's ruling completely contradicts the will of the people. It violates the constitutionality of the 1994 vote and threatens to undo 20 years of successful conservation practice in her state," he said.
"It also is pitting the commercial fishermen of Florida against every single member of the recreational fishing community, and I doubt that's a war they were hoping for.
"All the recreational fishing organizations and conservation groups are on the same page on this one.”
As this latest challenge plays out, Rodney Smith, a Florida guide and founder of Anglers for Conservation, shared his thoughts with Activist Angler regarding the fight to save Florida’s inshore fisheries:
“It is easy to understand the great concern and frustration Florida anglers and conservationists experience whenever this amendment is challenge or disobeyed.
“For far too many years, folks who commercially fishing our state's waters used monofilament gill nets to capture their catch. This type of fishing gear is known for its immense and non-discriminative bycatch. There are few fish-catching devices more destructive to our environment than monofilament gills nets.
“These death traps are not only fish killers, but they trap and kill marine birds, reptiles, mammals and a countless number of other critters that are discarded as bycatch. This one of the many reasons Florida's voters passed the net ban amendment.
“This isn't the first attempt to sabotage Florida's constitutional net ban amendment. Every couple of years we see these types of shenanigans. They usually come from an underling court in rural west Florida or the Panhandle.Each time the amendment has stood strong in higher courts.
“Looking back to years running up to the 1994 election, the year the amendment was approved, I remember the milestones we reached along the way to make this amendment possible. It took us a couple of years to rally the support we needed to raise money, recruit and mobilize volunteers at voting precincts, and collect over 200,000 signatures during the 1992 elections to place the amendment on the ballot.
“Looking back, the majority of us involved had a sense of urgency and a feeling that nothing could stand in the way of getting this amendment passed.
“Ours was a fevered passion for success, and it was a five-year process. During the campaign my clients and I had an attempt on our lives by a commercial netter who loosened all the lug nuts on my wheels. There were also the late night threatening, drunken phone calls that we received. (They worried my wife, Karen.) And I had a face-to-face death threat at a Marine Fisheries Commission meeting in Cocoa Beach. It was an exciting time!
“Yes, 2014 will be the 20th anniversary of Florida's constitutional net ban amendment passing, and we should all be talking about it.”