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Supreme Court upholds rule on turtle excluders

State regulators have the right to issue emergency rules requiringshrimpers in Florida waters to use turtle excluder devices in their nets, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The unanimous decision was handed down a week after the expiration of the 180-day emergency rule.

A permanent rule for state waters, held up by a different challenge, is before the state's 1st District Court of Appeal. A hearing officer has recommended that the permanent rule be dismissed.

The Florida Marine Fisheries Commission will now use Thursday's high court decision to ask the appeals court to overturn the hearing officer's recommendation, said Charles Shelfer, general counsel to the commission.

State waters extend about nine miles out on the West Coast and three miles on the East Coast.

TEDs are designed to act as trap doors that let sea turtles, which need to surface to breathe, escape drowning in nets. Some shrimpers, however, have argued that TEDs also let shrimp out and could put them out of business.

Gov. Bob Martinez said he was pleased the high court ruled as it did.

"I think it was a good decision," Martinez told reporters during a news conference on his proposed budget. "I think it was a well thought-out decision."

But John Newton, a Tallahassee attorney representing the Florida chapter of the Concerned Shrimpers of America, said the opinion was based more on policy issues than legal analysis.

"I'm real disappointed," Newton said. "I'm surprised."

David Davis, a shrimper who challenged the emergency rule after he was cited for violating it, now faces up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine if convicted on the charge.

Last November, a Franklin County judge dismissed the charge against the Davis, ruling that the Marine Fisheries Commission had usurped legislative authority to protect endangered species. The state appealed to the 1st District Court of Appeal, which labeled the issue one of "great public importance" and passed it along to the state's high court.

Federal rules requiring TEDs are in effect year round from the Cape Canaveral area to Sarasota. Elsewhere off Florida, though, the federal requirements are seasonal. The federal government will require TEDs off the northeast coast again starting May 1 and off the Gulf Coast from Sarasota to Pensacola starting March 1.

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