The Coastal Conservation Association's campaign against gill netting got a boost last week when a bill to increase the criminal penalties for poaching cleared the House Committee on Natural Resources.
"Our primary focus is to stop the flagrant violations of the constitutional amendment that banned gill nets from state waters," said Ted Forsgren, executive director of CCA Florida who led the campaign to ban the nets. "Poachers with hundreds of yards of illegal nets continue to take thousands of pounds of fish all over the state in clear violation of the law."
The bill would create a flagrant violation category, defined as the illegal possession of a monofilament net larger than 2,000 square feet, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
A flagrant violation would be considered a third-degree felony. Violators could be fined $5,000 and have their commercial fishing license suspended for a year.
"This is a big problem all over the state," Forsgren said. "The voters spoke nine years ago when they said they didn't want gill netting in state waters. This bill increases the penalties and hopefully stops this destructive practice."
TARPON UPDATE: Anglers interested in one of the state's most valuable game fish will want to stop by the Florida Marine Research Institute on Thursday when biologists present data collected at last year's Suncoast Tarpon Round Up.
Among the topics is the general life history of the species, including the age, size and catch statistics gathered at last year's tournament, as well as information regarding Red Tide and a new tarpon tag system.
The event is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the Karen A. Steidinger Auditorium at the Florida Marine Research Institute, 100 Eighth Ave. SE, St. Petersburg. TRADING SPACES: The cable television show is scheduled to rebroadcast its first nautical episode, filmed at the Harborage and Municipal marinas in St. Petersburg, at 10 tonight.
The boaters who switched live-aboards were Calvin Tate and Pat Benavides (owners of a 33-year-old, 70-foot houseboat) and Angela and Nick Metro (owners of a 19-year-old, 56-foot Matthews Motoryacht).
Trading Spaces gives each family $1,000 and the help of a designer and carpenter, then allows two days to redecorate the borrowed homes.
The Metros and their two children were featured in the December issue of the Times' Gulf & Bay.
NEW MANATEE ZONES: An area review committee will discuss the zones before forwarding its recommendations to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for consideration at its April meeting. But before the zones become law, the state will hold at least one public hearing this summer in the Tampa Bay area. If approved, the rules would establish a seasonal slow-speed zone out to the 6-foot contour in some areas north of the Courtney Campbell Bridge. The waters around Weedon Island, St. Petersburg and Boca Ciega Bay would not be affected.
- To learn more, go to www.floridaconservation.org/psm/manatee/rules.htm