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Net ban met with defiance, dismay

Some fishermen vowed to defy new restrictions, and state officials promised strict enforcement as Florida's ban on many types of net fishing took effect today.

Fishing industry leaders appealed for calm Friday, though some fishermen have threatened to block waterways with their nets over the busy Fourth of July weekend.

"We've urged our people to be peaceful, stay within the law, but you don't know," said Pat McFarland, head of the Port St. Joe-based Seafood Producers Association.

The ban, approved in November by 72 percent of voters, outlaws gill and entanglement nets within state waters _ 3 miles off the east coast and 9 miles off the west coast. Seines and trawls larger than 500 square feet must move 1 mile off the east coast and 3 miles off the west coast.

"I'm not expecting anything to happen," said Jerry Sansom of Organized Fishermen of Florida. "If it does, it'll be totally isolated and the acts of distressed individuals."

In a letter to the Tallahassee Democrat on behalf of 25 fishermen, Raymond Massey of Wakulla County called the ban "attempted class and cultural genocide." Vowed Massey, "We will fish come Saturday."

State authorities say anyone caught using illegal nets Saturday will receive citations from the Florida Marine Patrol to appear in court. And Gov. Lawton Chiles earlier this week promised to use the National Guard to enforce the ban if necessary.

First convictions for violations of the net ban call for up to 60 days in prison and fines of up to $500.

In response to the threats, the Florida Marine Patrol has shifted to an emergency mode for the week, requiring officers to work 12-hour shifts, with no days off.

Today's enactment of the ban comes just as Wakulla County in the Panhandle made a last-ditch effort be exempted from it. Leon County Circuit Judge Philip Padovano on Friday denied Wakulla County's argument that its dependence on fishing made it a special case.

"An injunction against the enforcement of the amendment in Wakulla County alone would be confusing and it would be unfair to commercial fishermen in other counties who will be forced to comply," he ruled.

On Thursday, Padovano denied a bid for a statewide injunction to hold off enforcement of the net ban.

_ This report contains information from the Associated Press and Times files.