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Fishermen may act, not react to restrictions

For years, sports fishermen and conservationists have pressed for restrictions on commercial fishing. They say it is depleting fish populations to dangerously low levels.

Commercial fishermen have responded with outrage, labeling such restrictions as threats to their livelihood. Now their approach may be changing.

Some commercial fishermen are saying their objectives would be served better if they made their own proposals for conservation instead of just fighting the conservationists.

"We've been on the defense," said Jimmy Kofmehl, president of the Citrus County chapter of the Organized Fishermen of Florida.

"I feel good that we're going to really work hard with the Marine Fisheries Commission, that we're going to really shed some light on things that need to be done instead of saying, "No, we can't live with that.'

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The new attitude was prompted by a state legislative proposal for restrictions on commercial net fishing, restrictions that fishermen regarded as the severest yet. Although the proposal died in a committee this week, Kofmehl said his his trip to Tallahassee to fight the bill was an eye-opener.

Commercial fishermen need to work with other groups so they have some say about conservation proposals, he said. Otherwise, sports fishermen may force their commercial counterparts out of business, he said.

"I hope they'll work with us, but with the attitude they've got now, I don't know if they will," he said. "They want the nets out. They want us out."

Greg Hagar, president of the Citrus chapter of the Florida Conservation Association (FCA), a sports fishing group, expressed willingness to work with commercial fishermen.

"There's a problem that needs to be addressed, and there's an issue that affects us all, whether it's commercial fishermen or sports fishermen," he said. "The fishing stocks are down and something has to be done."

The statewide FCA was a main proponent of the net restriction proposal that died in legislative committee this week.

"I think the (Florida Conservation Association) was trying to catch some attention to notice that there is a problem," Hagar said. "I think we've all got to realize that we don't have an unlimited supply out there anymore, and something has to be done about it, whether this bill is the answer or not."

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