Cortez commercial fisherman Mark Coarsey will take his passion and petition to oppose the gill net ban to a statewide audience March 13.
Coarsey, a native of the fishing village, is president of Fishing for Freedom of Manatee County, a Cortez-based nonprofit with a mission to protect the marine ecosystem and the rights of commercial fishers.
Backed by FFF and 1,000 petition signatures, Coarsey will attend a March 13 meeting of the Constitution Revision Commission at the University of South Florida Student Center, 200 Sixth Ave. S., St. Petersburg. He invites others to join him at the session, which starts at 1 p.m.
Coarsey is fighting to revamp restrictions promulgated by state agencies he considers out of touch with the commercial fishing industry.
State regulations imposed with the ban fail to give commercial fishers a voice and, according to Coarsey, the current 2-inch mesh nets fail to protect the juvenile fishery.
The historic fishing village of Cortez, founded as Hunter’s Point by North Carolina fishers following the mullet run in the 1880s, lost half of its fishing economy within two years of the ban, according to the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage 2016 publication, “It Takes a Village.”
FFF and Coarsey oppose sportfishing interests, including the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, which touts the need for the ban, claiming the entanglement nets reduce the fisheries and ensnare dolphins, turtles and other marine life.
But, as to whether the ban solved the perceived problems, the jury is out, with mullet up statewide, but other fisheries inconclusive, according to an article, “Net Ban Turns 20 on July 1, but was it a success?” in Florida Today, June 30, 2015.
Millions was spent on state programs to ease the transition for out-of-work gill-netters and some, who continued to net fish.
Coarsey’s message: “Give fishermen back their gear and let us be part of the decision-making process.”
FFF, Coarsey and his petition support a Wakulla fisher’s proposal to the commission numbered 700500 and titled “Protecting Florida’s Traditional Fishermen and Restoring Sound Science and Best Management Practices to Florida’s Fisheries.”
The proposal seeks to eliminate the 22-year-old net ban amendment and other commercial fishing prohibitions, including allowing nets larger than 500 square feet and more than two nets per vessel.
With Facebook posts, Coarsey hopes to alert other fishers to the commission meetings.
“We have all complained about the net ban for 20 years. Now is the time to speak up and let your voice be heard,” Coarsey wrote Feb. 12 on Facebook.
The CRC is charged with recommending proposals for the 2018 ballot, which require 60 percent of the vote to pass.
Gov. Rick Scott appointed Carlos Beruff as the chairman of the 37-member commission. Beruff is a Manatee County developer who recently won approval for Aqua by the Bay, a 529-acre high-rise mixed-use development near Cortez on Sarasota Bay.
The 2017-18 commission is only the third in Florida’s history. The process began when voters ratified a new constitution in 1968, requiring 20-year reviews.
Anyone interested in reaching Coarsey regarding the March 13 meeting of Constitution Revision Commission or FFF can look for the FFF Facebook page or call 941-737-9990.