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Cortez Fishing for Freedom members attend protest, appellate hearing

By Jennifer Glenfied, Islander Reporter

The Fishing for Freedom group gathers around FFF president Ronald Fred Crum and vice president David Grix at a May 15 protest at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission building in Tallahassee.

As workers in Tallahassee prepared for a day in the appellate court, two Cortez fishers packed their bags.

Mark Coarsey, president of the fledging Manatee County chapter of Fishing for Freedom, began making plans to travel to Tallahassee when he first heard Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal would hear the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s challenge to 2nd Judicial Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford’s ruling on a statewide ban on gill nets. The circuit ruling was issued in October 2013.

The constitutional amendment restricting gill nets and mesh sizes of nets rocked the commercial fishing industry in Cortez and other commercial fisheries across the state when approved by Florida voters in 1994. The ban took effect in 1995.

Fulford’s ruling in Wakulla Commercial Fishermen’s Association v. Florida Fish and Wildlife overturned the net ban, making it ineffective. Her order triggered an appeal from the FWC.

The now 20-year legal battle over the ban is seeing an emergence of a grassroots collective representing fishers across the state.

Cortez fishers Coarsey and Nate “Toasty” Meschelle met up with other representatives from around the state of the Fishing for Freedom group in Tallahassee May 15 to attend a protest and a hearing.

Coarsey said 50-60 people attended the demonstration outside of the FWC building, most wearing their FFF T-shirts. The shirts, on the back, state, “Biology versus Politics.”

Following the protest, FFF members filled the courtroom for the hearing.

“We represented Manatee County. Is it important we went up there? Yes,” said Coarsey. “They’re taking out a species of fisherman.”

The net ban was intended to promote sustainable fishing practices, and it almost exclusively affects commercial mullet fishers. The FWC contends the rule is intended to protect fish populations by preventing over-fishing. The Wakulla Commercial Fisherman’s Association, the group facing the FWC in court, says the amendment does not achieve its intent.

Coarsey says limiting the mesh size of the nets means it is more difficult for fishers to net legal-sized fish and, instead, many juvenile fish are caught, producing a bycatch that the net ban was supposed to prevent.

“Let us go catch our fish, you won’t have the bycatch we’ve been having, and you won’t have the junk in our bays,” said Coarsey. “Commercial fishermen are out to protect our resource.”

A three-judge panel listened May 15 to testimony from attorneys representing the Wakulla group and the FWC.

If the panel of judges sides with the Wakulla group, the Fulford ruling will be upheld and the net ban will be lifted.

However, the FWC could appeal a loss to the Florida Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Cortez fishers are hopeful — hoping to go back to the practice of many generations that puts food on the table for their families and others.

4 Responses to Cortez Fishing for Freedom members attend protest, appellate hearing

  1. jerrit says:

    I was a net fisherman till the ban. I graduated in 1995 and had to quit because of it..my family owned firstfish in everglades city and it sucks we couldnt carryon tradition.

  2. Dave Grix says:

    What MIGHT happen is that the 1st DCA will declare the 2″ mesh rule “invalid.” If they do, that will open the door to the possibility of any size mesh (hole sizes) in 500 square feet of mesh area nets. Many thanks to Jennifer Glenfied for covering this important event in the commercial fishing community. A favorable ruling will help the environment, economy and citizens.

  3. pibella says:

    Its sad it had to take so many years when the fwcc commission would stop discrimination of the mullet fishermen who mandated the laws….other fishers in florida can ise 3 inch up to 4 1/2 inch stretch mesh..prior to the net limitation amendment with over 200 laws on nets alone, no mesh size smaller than 3 inch could be used (laws based in scienceex) for conservation of by catch God willing (and I kniw He is) this will be the start of a solution that effects all of our natural resources

  4. diego bellafiore says:

    Hi , my name is Diego , from Italy.
    Some mullet fisherman interested in partnership to start a business to process mullet roe locally there? I have the knowledgement and market here in Italy for dryed mullet roe (bottarga) .Regards

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