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New fishing rules hurt now but expected to help later

Times have changed from the days decades ago when commercial fishermen in Citrus County worried only about the weather and where to find the biggest schools of fish for their nets. New state restrictions on size and numbers of such species as redfish, mullet and grouper as well as boat speed limits and netting restrictions on area rivers are causing hardships, area fishermen say.

"I have been fishing in Citrus County for the past five years now, and all these new changes are making it rough on us fishermen," said Steve Stork of Crystal River.

"I think the rules are necessary; they are just painful," said Bob Gill, owner of the Shrimp Landing in Crystal River.

"The fishermen who were having a tough time before the new laws may have to drop by the wayside. Those who were doing better will stay with it, but it will still be harder on them than before," he said.

"These new rules are obviously tuned to replenish stocks and increase the sizes of the fish, so we should come up with a better product in the long run. But in the short run, it will have a negative impact on us and the fishermen," Gill said.

Maj. Lewis Shelfer of the Florida Marine Patrol in Tallahassee said he has heard many of these complaints from other commercial fishermen.

But he says the new laws are necessary to preserve certain species.

"Fishing is going to be different than it was years ago when you could go out there and get it any time you wanted it. Fishing is going to be like money in the bank now. When the account gets low, you have to watch it and play by different rules," he said.

"Although some of these people are upset, I don't believe these new laws will cause them problems. In the next couple of years we will probably even see them (commercial fishermen) getting more money for their fish than they are at the present time.

"Like any other industry, a person that is willing to conform and run it like a business can probably survive," he said.

Fisherman Dale Strickland agrees that there are benefits from the new laws.

"I've been fishing all my life, and I have come to realize that everything you do to preserve the species is going to help," he said.

"Already we have realized that you just about can't live here in Citrus County and make a living (fishing) year around, you have to travel elsewhere," he said. "We feel some of the new laws will help us replenish the fish and give us larger fish in the years to come."

Although commercial fishermen like Stork agree to "play by different rules," they say that the new regulations are hurting them in the short term.

"These past few months haven't been good at all for me, because of the new rules and the cold weather. I used to make about $300 a week after my expenses, now I am averaging about $120 a week," Stork said. "I live pretty poorly on that."

Stork, 34, captains a shrimp boat and a grouper boat. He said that a year ago he caught about 1,600 pounds of shrimp on a four-day trip, compared to the 650 pounds of shrimp he catches on a five-day trip now. Stork credits his decline in shrimping to the severe cold weather in late December.

Not only does Stork fear for those who make a living by shrimping, but also those who count on their grouper catches to pay the bills.

"This new 20-inch size limit that goes in effect for grouper in February is really going to hurt us. Almost 50 percent of the grouper I catch measure under 20 inches," he said.

"All I can say is that if things don't pick up before long, I am probably going to have to stop fishing. I'm just hoping this new year will bring better fishing."

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