Dozens of commercial mullet fishermen flocked to the St. Johns River this week after a Leon County judge allowed long-banned nets to be used in Florida waters, stirring up a decade-old controversy about balancing fish populations and commercial profits.
The nets, called gill nets, were banned in 1995 after voters approved a state amendment to outlaw the nets, saying they encouraged overfishing. Leon County Judge Jackie Fulford decided last week to stop the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission from enforcing this rule, saying in her ruling the fishermen had “lost the tools of their trade, and thus, their ability to earn a living.”
The controversy boils down to two schools of thought. On one side, the gill nets are said to be an essential instrument that spare baby fish and help fishermen make a better living. To the other side, the nets are considered an overly zealous tool that have the power to demolish essential fish populations, just to feed fishermen’s pocketbooks.
In some ways, the controversy is less about the fish meat, but what’s inside them.