Florida environmentalists claimed a major victory today when the First District Court of Appeal upheld a rule proposed by the Marine Fisheries Commission ("MFC") that ensures that illegal gill nets cannot be used in Florida waters.
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."
David Guest, Ansley Samson, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, (850) 681-0031
Manley Fuller, Florida Wildlife Federation and Florida League of Anglers, (850) 656-7113
Ted Forsgren, Coastal Conservation Association, (850) 224-3474
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.