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Commercial fishermen rally to stop net ban

Published Oct. 4, 2005

With only four days to go before the state's net ban takes effect, commercial fishermen fought for their livelihood.

From civil disobedience to the inevitable lawsuit, fishermen tried to draw attention to their plight. The developments Tuesday:

About 50 fishermen rallied against the net ban at the Old Capitol early Tuesday morning.

A fisherman got arrested at Florida's Capitol for blocking the door at the Cabinet meeting room.

Across the street at the Leon County Courthouse, lawyers for the fishing industry failed to persuade a judge to block immediately the net ban from taking effect Saturday. Judge Philip J. Padovano thanked the fishermen for their civil behavior _ they didn't raise a ruckus in court _ and said he would rule Thursday.

Johnnie Clopton, a fourth-generation shrimper from Navarre in the western Panhandle, said outside the courtroom that he hoped Padovano would side with fishermen and grant an injunction against the net ban.

"What I'm feeling out of this today (is) I feel the judge is a fair man," he said. Based on a question the judge asked of attorneys, "I think he's got some doubt there."

Clopton and hundreds of other commercial fishermen say their livelihood will be wiped out Saturday when the net ban takes effect. Approved by voters in November, the constitutional amendment prohibits gill nets and entangling nets in all state waters and all other types of nets of 500 square feet or more in near-shore and inshore state waters. The large nets still can be used beyond 3 miles in the Gulf of Mexico and 1 mile in the Atlantic.

Clopton operates two boats, one 35 feet long, the other 25 feet. The boats and equipment are worth $80,000, he said.

"Everything I own is in this prohibition," he said.

Attorney Frank Santry argued that voters did not know the impact of the net ban when they approved it. They did not know that the state already had many net regulations, that the amendment treated East Coast fishermen differently from gulf fishermen and that the state would compensate the fishermen with a net buyback and retraining that could cost $40-million.

He produced a poll taken this month purporting to show that had voters known all that, they would have defeated the net ban amendment.

"This public opinion poll is hogwash," responded Denis Dean, an assistant attorney general arguing for the state. "The only public opinion poll that counts is the vote of 2.8-million people Nov. 8 approving the constitutional amendment that's now under attack."

Earlier Tuesday as the Cabinet meeting got under way, fisherman Ronald Crum of Panacea blocked the door of the room until Capitol police arrested him.

Crum, 47, was cited for blocking entry to a public assembly and ordered to appear in court July 13.

_ Staff writer Diane Rado contributed to this report.