By Stephanie Carroll Carson
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida commercial fishermen are working to overturn a 20-year-old amendment to the state constitution that limits the gear they can use. The Net Ban Amendment was put in place in 1994 to stop the use of entangling nets and large small-mesh nets to capture entire schools of fish. Some fishermen who count on fishing for their livelihood continue to oppose the law, but according to Preston Robertson, general counsel for the Florida Wildlife Federation, overturning the "Net Ban" would move Florida backward in terms of protecting the state's wildlife.
"Since 1994 we have seen a tremendous rebound in the number of game fish, because we've gotten the nets mainly out of the water."
Once the amendment was put in place, fisherman were limited to the use of smaller nets measuring no more than 500 square feet. Currently a group of fishermen is challenging the constitutionality of the Net Ban Amendment, while groups including the Florida Wildlife Federation have filed amicus briefs in support of the law.
Robertson said that, while he and others are sympathetic to commercial fishermen, now that 20 years have passed, and considering the improvements to fish populations, it's time to move forward.
"I don't know why they haven't moved on to something else, and I'm sure they would tell me it's in their blood to be commercial fishermen, but we've got to live with the law as it is," he stated.
Robertson explained why the large nets were causing such problems for the state's wildlife.
"The nets not only were catching some of these game fish inadvertently, they were also catching the forage fish species, which are in the food chain. They're what our game fish feed upon."
Recently a Circuit Court judge found that the Net Ban Amendment and its regulations are "unfair" to mullet fishermen, a finding which the Florida Wildlife Federation and others argue is not a reason to declare the amendment unconstitutional. Audiofile.