Cortez fishers talk about gill net ban

Cortez, Fla. – On Oct. 22, the ban on gill net fishing, imposed in 1995, was lifted by a circuit court judge in Tallahassee. Just over two weeks later, on Nov. 6, the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee granted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission an automatic stay on the injunction, allowing FWC officials to enforce the ban.

“It’s typical,” Karen Bell, of AP Bell Fish Co. 4539 124th St., Cortez said. “They lifted it and rescinded it 10 days later or something like that.”

The lifting of the ban was seen as a victory for the lawsuit on behalf of the commercial fishing industry, headed by Wakulla County mullet fishers against the FWC. Despite the victory, commercial fishers in Cortez aren’t surprised by the restrictions back in place.

“If the ban was lifted, they were right there waiting to overturn it,” said Kathe Fannon, a fourth-generation Cortez fisher.

The ban, which took effect in 1995, has been disputed as unfair and ineffective by commercial fishers across the state but defended as a necessary conservation measure by the FWC.

“No one came out here and asked us how we fish, how we maintain and how we thrive,” Fannon said. “If they ever went out with us, watched how we work, they never would have done this.”

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford, who rendered the Oct. 22 ruling lifting the ban, did just that. Fulford considered the issue for a year and went mullet fishing to see how the nets work. Her ruling was a result, in part, of her experience, and she called the net-ban law an “absolute mess.”

“After the net ban in ’95, four out of the five fish houses here went bankrupt three weeks later. We’ve been here for over 100 years thriving, through the great depression,” Fannon said. “They didn’t take the nets, they destroyed an industry that’s been here since the beginning of time.”

The ban’s intention was to eliminate by catch, the unintended capture of juvenile fish and other marine life. An agency rule aimed at this purpose defines a gill net as any net with a stretched mesh greater than 2 inches. The rule left commercial fishers to use hand-thrown cast nets, which do a poor job of catching legal-sized fish and kills juvenile fish in the process.

The lifting and replacing the gill net restriction may not be all for naught.

“At least people are thinking about it and I think some people are seeing that (the net ban) wasn’t done properly,” Bell told The Islander in an earlier interview. Florida residents are “at least more respectful of what these guys go through to bring domestic seafood to consumers.”

The ban-a constitutional amendment was passed in 1994 and was supported by 72 percent of Florida voters. Fannon cites the media coverage leading up to the ban for the skewed perspective on the effects of gill nets.

“Florida Sportsman magazine, the Bradenton Herald all ran photos of dead, bloody dolphins, the same beautiful dolphins I take people on charters to see, as a result of gill nets. It’s just not accurate,” Fannon said.

The fishers of Cortez pride themselves on their long lines of family operations and hand-manufacturing of boats and nets. Fannon said, the nets she made with her father were designed to catch larger fish, and allow juveniles to break free, returning to the water to spawn to maintain a sustainable supply. She also said the Cortez boats, known as kickers, were designed to protect the seagrass beds.

“It’s a finely tuned process we’ve perfected over generations and we ran it like professionals,” Fannon said. “We’ve been here for over 100 years making a living from these waters, and we treat it with respect.”

The stay on Fulford’s injunction will remain in place until the appeal’s court has considered the claims. For now, no gill net fishing.

This article was originally published in The Islander Dec. 18, 2013.

Island resident remembers Mandela fondly

Anna Maria, Fla. – There’s an apparent infectious quality about the goodwill expounded by Nelson Mandela — the mention of his name, a quote, a photo, a story. It’s a message of hope, triumph, struggle, and a universal understanding of humanity, past the barriers of language, religion, politics, skin color and national origin.

“It was really, for me, the greatest personality I’ve ever met. To meet him, gave me goose bumps,” said Markus Siegler owner of Beach Fashion Boutique and Anna Maria Island Real Estate and Guest Services in Anna Maria.

Siegler, in November 2012, came to Anna Maria Island from Switzerland, where he was the director of communications for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the international governing body of soccer. His position in FIFA sent him around the globe, and he met and shook the hands of world leaders.

“That’s how I met him, as a FIFA executive. I think it was three times we met,” Siegler said.

One of the meetings between Mandela and Siegler was a lunch in Zurich in 2003.

Markus Siegler's autographed copy of Nelson Mandela's autobiography is one of the  few possessions he took to the United States when he moved from Switzerland.
Markus Siegler’s autographed copy of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography is one of the few possessions he took to the United States when he moved from Switzerland.

“I knew Mandela would be there. I had read his (auto)biography, ‘Long Walk to Freedom,’ while on holiday in South Africa. So I knew him, not personally, but what he had accomplished,” Siegler said. “I have met multimillion dollar football players, heads of state, kings and queens, and I have never asked anyone for an autograph.”

Mandela wrote in the book, “To Markus, Best wishes, Nelson Mandela” in blue ink. The signed biography is one item Siegler brought with him to the United States from Switzerland.

Mandela was born in 1918 in a small village in South Africa. He became the face and the catalyst for the movement against the apartheid regime in his country. For his role as an activist, Mandela was jailed for 27 years. His confinement, meant to discourage Mandela and his cohorts, only strengthened their resolve for equality and democracy in South Africa.

Siegler is convinced Mandela’s “biggest achievement and the one we have to admire most came after his time in prison when he applied the policy of reconciliation in South Africa.”

“I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination,” said Mandela at his 1964 trial as stated in “Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations.” “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela carried the words he expressed in 1964 through his life in actions, until death on Dec. 5.

“What was so striking was his aura. There was no bitterness. He spent 27 years in prison. (At the lunch) he was open, he was joking. He was funny, he liked to laugh and be spontaneous,” Siegler said.

Mandela was released from prison in 1990. Four years later, at age 76, he became the first black, democratically elected president of South Africa.

After Mandela’s death this month, his coffin was placed in almost the same place he took his oath of office.

CNN said the mourning of his death looked similar to Mandela’s election — people of every color and background gathered at the capitol, singing and carrying signs and banners and wearing shirts displaying Mandela’s portrait.

“I was deeply, deeply impressed. I was lucky to have met him. For me, he is one of the greatest in history and I’m not alone in that,” said Siegler, who followed the news from AMI.

Mandela served one five-year term as president and voluntarily stepped down. He forged a democracy and he took to the grave many firsts for South Africa, as well as a Nobel Peace Prize earned with F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, for negotiating the end of the apartheid in South Africa.

President Barack Obama spoke at Mandela’s memorial in Johannesburg Dec. 10: “It is hard to eulogize any man — to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person … How much harder to do so for a giant of history.

He also said, “It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he also changed hearts.”

This article was originally published in The Islander Dec. 18, 2013.