December 4, 2013
With the status of a long-standing ban on gillnet fishing in Florida waters now in doubt, two conservation groups say it is time to tighten up regulations on harvesting mullet and other bait fish in order to protect gamefish and wading birds further up the food chain.
"The net ban is an important tool to protect the mullet," said Holly Binns, director of the Pew Charitable Trust's southeast United States oceans program. Mullet and other so-called forage fish could be caught unintentionally in the big commercial nets, environmentalists say.
Pew and Audubon of Florida jointly released a report last month calling for a new approach to the management of forage fish. Citing peer-reviewed scientific literature from the last two years, the organizations argue that the taking of forage fish, such as mullet, ballyhoo and pinfish, needs to be regulated in a manner that will not only sustain populations, but allow them to grow. If those populations don't increase, then state-listed birds that call forage fish prey, such as the roseate spoonbill and the least tern, will face one more barrier to recovery.
At present, the Florida striped mullet fishery and the Florida Keys ballyhoo fishery are regulated, but fisheries for other forage species, such as pinfish, herring and sardines, are not.