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Net ban opponents argue case before judge today

Wakulla County, where fishing is the coastal community's biggest business, is asking a judge to stop the state from enforcing the net-fishing ban that takes effect Saturday.

Chief Circuit Judge Philip Padovano will hold a hearing today on Wakulla's request to be exempted from the measure banning most net fishing in coastal waters.

Padovano denied the state's request to cancel the hearing on Wakulla's challenge to the ban. County attorney Ronald Mowrey argued that Wakulla, which is south of Tallahassee, faced economic ruin and deserved to have its plea heard.

"This will be devastating to Wakulla County. There won't be any more Wakulla County," said Mowrey, who is seeking a 90-day suspension of the ban until the court can make a final ruling.

Florida voters overwhelmingly approved the net ban in November.

The county hopes to use a provision in the constitutional amendment that exempts fishing done for governmental purposes. A judge has denied a temporary restraining order in a similar lawsuit filed by Gulf and Franklin counties.

Padovano also is expected to announce a decision Thursday on whether to suspend enforcement of the net ban statewide based on a separate legal challenge by a group of commercial fishermen.

The ban prohibits using nets that entangle fish in their mesh from all Florida waters, which stretch 9 miles off the gulf coast and 3 miles off the Atlantic coast.