Angler Alert: Misguided Florida Judge Lifts Ban On Gill Nets
Disaster Narrowly Averted (For Now)
By John Donohue
When the news hit that Florida Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford lifted the ban on the use of gill nets, calling the two inch limitation on the mesh size commercial fishermen a "legal absurdity" in inshore Florida waters, anglers state wide were thrown into a panic. How could this be? In 1994 over 70 percent of Florida voters called for the ban of gill nets.
Wakulla County mullet fishermen Jonas Porter and Keith Ward and Panacea Bait and Tackle owner Ronald Fred Crum brought the suit challenging the net ban. I am not sure how mullet guys can afford a high priced attorney, but that is another story.
While kayak anglers and the motor powered gang don't always see eye to eye, they came together to fight a common foe. Social media played a huge role in spreading word of the potential devastation to our fishery. It also connected anglers to elected officials and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Anglers used the Commission webpage myfwc.com to voice their displeasure.
While the sport of kayak fishing continues to grow exponentially, lifting the gill net ban could prove disastrous to the kayak fishing industry. Everyone from major manufacturers to local guides could suffer serious losses. Mullet are a major food source for most inshore gamefish. Gill nets would vastly reduce their numbers, leaving game fish to starve.
Gill nets do not discriminate. Snook, redfish and trout would be routinely killed and discarded as by-product. Sea life such as dolphins, manatees and sea turtles would be impacted.
Fortunately, Florida's First District Court of Appeal reinstated the 18 year old ban while the lawsuit plays out in court. Attorney General Pam Bondi and Assistant AG Jonathan Glogau stepped up to put a halt on the slaughter that immediately followed Fulford’s misguided ruling. As we move into the height of the fall mullet run with commercial mullet men from as far away as North Carolina racing to Florida rape the bays, the upholding of the ban will allow us to remain responsible stewards of the sea. For now.
Gill net foe John Donohue has been an avid kayak angler and outdoor writer for over a decade. Most often he is found scouring the Southwest Florida flats for snook and redfish.