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Fisherman reeling over gill net rules changes

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Some local fisherman are reeling over some changes in the rules when it comes to nets.

A ban on gill net fishing that was put in place in 1994 has been lifted by a Leon County judge, sparking anger and controversy.

Environmentalists say gill net fishing threatens all species of fish. They say the ones fisherman can't keep are also getting tangled in their mesh nets and then thrown away as waste.

At nearly every boat ramp along the St. Johns River in Arlington on Tuesday, fisherman from all across the region were in Jacksonville fishing for mullet now that the ban on gill net fishing has been lifted.

Chris Cioffi says gill net fishing threatens to wipe the river clean.

"it's just the indiscriminate killing of everything," Cioffi said. "Here's an example: They set their nets against the creek on an incoming tide, whatever flushes into that creek."

Cioffi said he is outraged over a Leon County judge's ruling to overturn the gill net fishing law because she found the method was constitutional.

"Everyone is going to be impacted," Cioffi said. "Once you take away the lowest part of the food chain, everything else follows. And we are not going to see the the impact in our domestic market."

"What we're doing is just trying to feed our families, really," fisherman Robbie Bell said. "We are not trying to harm the environment. Yes, we are catching fish, but it's not what it's made out to be."

Bell said gill net fisherman are being unfairly stereotyped as inhumane and said the ban on gill net fishing put thousands of fisherman out of business in 1994. He said lifting the ban instead puts thousands of fisherman, who now have a better chance of bringing home a good catch, back into work.

"We want to make sure there are fish for our grandchildren to catch. It's a lot of propaganda," Bell said. "We don't want to upset anybody. We are not trying to disrespect anybody or do any of that, just catch some fish."

Opponents to gill net fishing are now taking their fight to newspapers and social media, and plans are being put in place for a protest in Tallahassee.


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