Gill nets are prohibited by article X, section 16, of the Florida Constitution – the net ban amendment. The MFC proposed a rule specifying that gill nets were nets with a mesh size larger than two inches stretched mesh. Three fishermen challenged this proposed rule in December 1996. Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund -- the nation's largest public interest environmental law firm -- intervened in the case on behalf of conservationist groups Florida Wildlife Federation, Florida League of Anglers (the two groups are in the process of merging), and Coastal Conservation Association of Florida on the side of the MFC. An administrative law judge heard the challenge in October 1997 and issued an order upholding the rule in early 1998. Fishermen then appealed the order to First District Court of Appeal.
"This is an important decision," said Ansley Samson, an attorney with the Tallahassee office of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. "It means that fishers can't do an end run around the net ban amendment and that Florida mullet populations won't return to the severely depleted state they were in before the net ban amendment was overwhelmingly approved by Floridians back in 1994."
Manley Fuller of Florida Wildlife Federation agreed: "Before the net ban amendment, the mullet resource was extremely overfished in all regions of the state. With the amendment and rule in place, we are on the road to full recovery of the mullet resource."
"We're extremely pleased," said Ted Forsgren of the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida. "This ruling will prevent fishers from using prohibited gill nets under the guise of some other kind of net."