FL judge reiterates stance against gill net fishing ban

toconnor@bradenton.comNovember 1, 2013 

Repeating her belief the Florida Wildlife Commission ban on gill net fishing makes no sense, Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford reinstituted her stay against the controversial law Wednesday.

The FWC said Thursday, however, it will continue to enforce the ban until it receives physical proof of the ruling.

"We have not received the order yet," said Amanda Nalley, FWC spokeswoman. "We don't know what it entails so we can't enforce it yet. Right now, as of this moment, the rules are in effect as they were until we receive that information."

Nalley said the minute the FWC receives physical evidence of the ruling its enforcement of the gill net ban will likely cease.

"We will do whatever the lift of the stay requires," she said.

Fulford granted a motion Wednesday made by mullet fishermen to lift a stay of her own Oct. 22 order where she said state net fishing laws were being unfairly enforced by the FWC.

Fulford wrote last week the Net Limitation Amendment approved by voters in 1994 limiting the use of fishing nets and state rules had created a "legal absurdity." The FWC was charged with enforcing the amendment and a long legal battle has ensued.

In the latest legal skirmish, the FWC circumvented the judge's ruling last week by promising to appeal it, which triggered a stay of the order for nine days until Fulford's Wednesday decision.

Fulford lifted the stay despite objections from Assistant Attorney Jonathan Glogau, representing the FWC. Glogau said the regulations were designed to reduce mullet harvest to allow population recovery.

The judge was not convinced.

"I sit today with the same opinion I have had for the past year," Fulford said in published reports. "It just doesn't make sense."

Glogau said after the hearing the FWC would file an emergency request with the 1st District Court of Appeal to issue another stay of the circuit judge ruling. The FWC Legal Department refused to comment.

The controversy over nets and net gear stems from the 1994 constitutional amendment approved by voters limiting net sizes in Florida waters. The Constitution defines a gill net as: "One or more walls of netting, which captures saltwater finfish by ensnaring or entangling them in the meshes of the net by the gills."

A turf battle has colored deliberations.

"We are the ones charged with enforcing the Florida Constitution," Nalley said.

The FWC's own website, however, points out voters did not reach a science-based decision.

Yet the FWC claims it has looked at every aspect of the long trail of litigation, court rulings and constitutional requirements.

"Though staff is sympathetic to the desires of fishers to have a commercially viable net," the FWC said in a statement issued to the Bradenton Herald Thursday, "We believe the constitutional amendment and subsequent court cases preclude us from doing so."

Terry O'Connor, night metro editor, can be reached at 941-745-7040 or toconnor@bradenton.com.

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