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Date of Issue: April 09, 2008

Mullet fishers may get weekends back

Commercial fishermen will be allowed to fish for mullet on weekends if the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission does what everyone concerned expects.

Meeting in Tallahassee this week, the commission will take up mullet fishing weekends as part of a full agenda of such range as taking bald eagles off the “threatened” list, gopher tortoise protection and staples on stone crab traps.

The prohibition of commercial fishing of mullet is part of the infamous gill net ban of 1995, which recreation fishermen pushed through on a statewide referendum. The ban put a large part of Anna Maria Island, Cortez and other Gulf of Mexico fishers out of business. FWC pointed out that the weekend ban was far in excess of anything it had wanted in its fishery management program.

The mullet harvest since has been limited to much smaller nets, and most fishers use cast nets. These are hard labor devices that are cast flat over the water by one person, sink and gather up any fish in the nets’ small range, to be hauled in with more of that hard labor.

Even this limited form of mullet harvest was banned on weekends from July to January to let the mullet fishery restore itself. It is designed to let females escape their inshore habitat for the open Gulf waters, where they gather as part of the spawning cycle.

It has worked, said an FWC spokesman, for now in much of the Gulf, and especially this area. The FWC goal of assuring that 35 percent of spawners escape to the open waters has been reached nearly everywhere and has been well exceeded in our waters. Mullet are abundant here now, FWC said.

Stocks have improved to the point that fishery management professionals are recommending that the commission rescind the weekend prohibition. It is expected to vote on the matter Wednesday, April 9. If the vote is to dump the weekend ban, final action likely will come at the FWC’s June meeting.

Stone crab staples? The commission will vote on whether to allow use of 16-gauge or thinner degradable staples on the degradable panel on wire stone crab traps. As for gopher tortoises, rare creatures that inhabit such places as the Sister Keys off Longboat Key, FWC will consider creating guidelines for activities that affect them.

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