Is The Net Ban Affecting The Mullet Population?
CEDAR KEY - Call it "The Law of Unintended Consequences,” A state law intended to be environmentally friendly may actually violate the rules it’s meant to protect. It’s a 20 year debate between commercial fishers and environmental groups over a net ban. North Central Florida fishermen say the rules are killing more fish than they are saving.
A lawsuit had a Tallahassee judge overturn the ban on gill net fishing Tuesday. However the Attorney General’s Office filed an appeal, putting the judge's order on hold. The fishermen I talked to say there’s a decline in mullet because of the net ban, the FWC says otherwise.
Along state road 24, as you enter Cedar Key you can find Moe selling fresh mullet. "You could see anywhere and you used to see mullet jumping. You don't see that anymore," Moe said. He's been fishing for more than 60 years.
Moe said, "Our mullet here on Cedar Key has disappeared." Moe says that over time these waters have had a decrease in mullet population. He compares the number of mullet he saw before the net ban in the 90's, to what he witnesses today and says it's very different.
"You went out you caught what you needed, you'd come home... Now what you fishing now... You don't know whether you're gonna catch anything or not," Moe said. He blames the lack of black mullet on the net ban. "The net that they make us fish, the mesh is so little that the baby fish get in it and it kills them," he added.
The amendment made it illegal to use entangling nets like gill and trammel nets in Florida waters. However many fishermen in Florida support the law but not how it's being applied. "It's unbelievable. I get so upset. Every time I go, I kill so many baby fish," Moe said.
Ronald Crum with the Wakulla Fisherman Association, a plaintiff in the lawsuit hopes things can change. "We come together in a settlement where everybody agrees to one issue that the plain language of the constitution can stand for itself and that it's not necessary to have legislative implementation by the FWC," Crum said.
A spokesperson for FWC, Amanda Nalley said that currently there is no significant decline of mullet stock for the cedar key area however fishermen may be experiencing a seasonal change. "There can be periodic changes in conditions in specific areas that cause fish maybe to move in or out of an area, without having any long term impacts on the species as whole."
State data shows black mullet catches were about 26 million pounds in 1990, before the net ban, but dropped to nine and a half million in 2010.
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