Fishermen to cast vote against net ban

Net ban
In this historic photo, mullet is hauled onto a Cortez commercial fishing boat in New Pass in a gill net, outlawed in 1994 by an amendment to the Florida Constitution. - Mark Taylor | Submitted

CORTEZ – Local commercial fishermen plan to petition Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) next month to place an amendment on the November ballot reversing the gill net ban.

Mark Coarsey, of Fishing for Freedom’s Manatee County chapter, has been collecting signatures in support of lifting the net ban at the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival in recent years. He will be taking them to the last of five CRC meetings in the state on Tuesday, March 13, from 1-7 p.m. at the University of South Florida Student Center, 200 Sixth Ave. S. in St. Petersburg.

Florida voters passed the gill net ban amendment to Florida’s Constitution in 1994 and it became effective July 1, 1995, a date which lives in infamy in the historic fishing village of Cortez, where many lost their jobs with the loss of the gill nets.

“They made criminals out of us,” Coarsey said, explaining that the smaller cast nets that are still legal are not sufficient to make a living.

Coarsey demonstrated both gill nets and cast nets at the fishing festival earlier this month, saying that unwanted juvenile fish are able to swim through the now-illegal two-inch mesh of gill nets and survive, while legal smaller-mesh cast nets wastefully catch everything.

Recreational fishermen and environmentalists proposed the ban, claiming that mullet were being overfished and that commercial fishermen were catching marine mammals and turtles in their nets. Commercial fishermen’s denials were ignored by voters, who approved the amendment.

If you go:
Constitution Revision Commission hearing
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
1-7 p.m.
University of South Florida – St. Petersburg
University Student Center
200 Sixth Ave. S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Coarsey plans to speak at the hearing on Fishing for Freedom’s proposal, “Protecting Florida’s Traditional Fishermen and Restoring Sound Science and Best Management Practices to Florida’s Fisheries,” which crosses out every word of the net ban amendment, Article X Section 16 of the Florida Constitution, “Limiting marine net fishing.”

The petition to reverse the net ban is one of 37 proposals on the commission’s agenda, including Proposal 91, which would ban offshore oil drilling.

Proposals approved by the commission will be placed on the November ballot as constitutional amendments; at least 60 percent of the state’s voters must approve an amendment to make it law.

The chair of the commission is Carlos Beruff, a Bradenton real estate developer and CEO of Medallion Home. Cortezians have largely opposed his Aqua by the Bay development, planned for construction on the opposite shore of Sarasota Bay from Cortez.

Gill net ban, Florida Constitution, Article X, Section 16, “Limiting marine net fishing”

“The marine resources of the State of Florida belong to all of the people of the state and should be conserved and managed for the benefit of the state, its people, and future generations. To this end the people hereby enact limitations on marine net fishing in Florida waters to protect saltwater finfish, shellfish, and other marine animals from unnecessary killing, overfishing and waste.

For the purpose of catching or taking any saltwater finfish, shellfish or other marine animals in Florida waters:

No gill nets or other entangling nets shall be used in any Florida waters; and

In addition to the prohibition set forth in (1), no other type of net containing more than 500 square feet of mesh area shall be used in nearshore and inshore Florida waters. Additionally, no more than two such nets, which shall not be connected, shall be used from any vessel, and no person not on a vessel shall use more than one such net in nearshore and inshore Florida waters.

For purposes of this section:

“gill net” means one or more walls of netting which captures saltwater finfish by ensnaring or entangling them in the meshes of the net by the gills, and “entangling net” means a drift net, trammell net, stab net, or any other net which captures saltwater finfish, shellfish, or other marine animals by causing all or part of heads, fins, legs, or other body parts to become entangled or ensnared in the meshes of the net, but a hand thrown cast net is not a gill net or an entangling net;

“mesh area” of a net means the total area of netting with the meshes open to comprise the maximum square footage. The square footage shall be calculated using standard mathematical formulas for geometric shapes. Seines and other rectangular nets shall be calculated using the maximum length and maximum width of the netting. Trawls and other bag type nets shall be calculated as a cone using the maximum circumference of the net mouth to derive the radius, and the maximum length from the net mouth to the tail end of the net to derive the slant height. Calculations for any other nets or combination type nets shall be based on the shapes of the individual components;

“coastline” means the territorial sea base line for the State of Florida established pursuant to the laws of the United States of America;

“Florida waters” means the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Straits of Florida, and any other bodies of water under the jurisdiction of the State of Florida, whether coastal, intracoastal or inland, and any part thereof; and

“nearshore and inshore Florida waters” means all Florida waters inside a line three miles seaward of the coastline along the Gulf of Mexico and inside a line one mile seaward of the coastline along the Atlantic Ocean.

This section shall not apply to the use of nets for scientific research or governmental purposes.

Persons violating this section shall be prosecuted and punished pursuant to the penalties provided in section 370.021(2)(a),(b),(c)6. and 7., and (e), Florida Statutes (1991), unless and until the legislature enacts more stringent penalties for violations hereof. On and after the effective date of this section, law enforcement officers in the state are authorized to enforce the provisions of this section in the same manner and authority as if a violation of this section constituted a violation of Chapter 370, Florida Statutes (1991).

It is the intent of this section that implementing legislation is not required for enforcing any violations hereof, but nothing in this section prohibits the establishment by law or pursuant to law of more restrictions on the use of nets for the purpose of catching or taking any saltwater finfish, shellfish, or other marine animals.

If any portion of this section is held invalid for any reason, the remaining portion of this section, to the fullest extent possible, shall be severed from the void portion and given the fullest possible force and application.

This section shall take effect on the July 1 next occurring after approval hereof by vote of the electors.”

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