Illegal gill nets used to catch 500 pounds of fish and sharks

By Chris Tisch

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has arrested 10 people from Atlanta who were using illegal gill nets to catch fish and sharks at the Skyway Bridge north rest area in St. Petersburg, the agency announced last week.

Officials said the nets were 1,660 feet long, “which is more than four and a half football fields of netting,” the agency said in a news release.

More than 500 pounds of fish and sharks were seized, according to the news release.

The news release said the agency received an anonymous tip “from a concerned citizen who saw the nets in the water.”

“This case is a great example of the important work our officers do every day to protect Florida’s natural resources,” Maj. Rob Rowe, the agency’s regional commander, said in the news release. “The use of these nets is illegal and harmful to the fish and wildlife that are indiscriminately killed when they become entangled in it.”

The gill nets, which are officially called monofilament entanglement nets, were banned by Florida after voters passed a Constitutional Amendment that took effect in 1995.

It’s a third-degree felony to use the nets. The maximum penalty is five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

“Gill nets are any net constructed entirely or partially of monofilament material other than a cast net or a landing dip net,” the agency said in its news release. “They are typically vertical sections of net that are stretched out on a rope suspended by a float and typically work by ‘gilling’ the fish and entangling them within the mesh. With the exception of very small fish that escape through the mesh, the majority of marine life that becomes entangled in the net die. This type of net can be especially devastating for sea turtles and marine mammals.”

The 10 people arrested face the following charges:

— One count third-degree felony - use of gill net in state water.

— One count first-degree misdemeanor - major violation pertaining to snook.

— Two counts second-degree misdemeanor - undersized sheepshead.

— 13 counts second-degree misdemeanor - undersized black drum.

— Four counts second-degree misdemeanor - undersized permit.

— Five counts second-degree misdemeanor - illegal method of harvest of snook.

— Five counts second-degree misdemeanor - undersized snook.

— Five counts second-degree misdemeanor - out-of-season snook.

— Three counts second-degree misdemeanor - undersized trout.

— Nine counts second-degree misdemeanor - illegal method of harvest of shark.

— Nine counts second-degree misdemeanor - illegal method of harvest of blue crab.

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