Felony Charge for Illegal Net Use?

Some local fishermen are outraged by a bill that would place a felony charge on illegal net use. This particular measure passed weeks ago, but it still needs the governor's signature to become law.

While awaiting the governor's decision, many locals are complaining saying the state's approach is too tough and the existing net law was working fine.

News of a felony violation for using too many gill nets to fish along the Gulf of Mexico is not gaining applause in Wakulla County.

Mitchell Taylor, a disabled commercial fisherman, says, “I think it's a bunch of crap making honest people into crooks.”

It's a common feeling for fishermen on the coast who feel they've already been hit hard by strict net-regulations.

Ronald Crum, president of the Wakulla Fishermen Association, says, “Voters said only allowed two nets then in July 2003 FWC says can have four nets and six months later they're asking Legislature to charge people with felony for using same four nets.”

Crum is talking about a bill that would make it a felony to fish in state waters using more than 2,000 square feet of net constructed of monofilament. The maximum penalty would be a $5,000 fine and a one-year license suspension.

Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says it created the bill as a deterrent for flagrant violators who connect their nets to produce a bigger catch, but Crum says the law would do more harm than good.

Most people lose their right to vote lose civil rights, but didn't have criminal intent. Still, FWC contends the law would not adversely affect any law-abiding fishermen. FWC officials says once the bill is signed by the governor, which they believe will happen soon, then FWC officials will need to implement rules defining what nets will constitute a felony charge.

FWC officials haven't nailed down a timeline, but they say once signed, it would go into affect on July 1, less than two months away.