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Hunting Accident File > VIOLATIONS: > 2003

WILDLIFE COMMISSION CATCHES NETTING VIOLATORS IN THE ACT

Dec 17, 2003

FRANK SARGEANT

For those who thought gill netting ended with the 1995 net ban amendment, think again. It ain't over 'til it's over, and it probably won't be over until fish houses quit buying roe mullet.

Don't hold your breath for that day.

The latest incident in the virtually unbroken string of netting violations stretching back to days after the net ban went into effect is a case last week at Cayo Costa, dubbed by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers as the largest illegal inshore netting case ever in Lee and Charlotte counties.

Commission spokesman Gary Morse said Allen McClenithan, 32, and Nelson W. Waddell, 22, both of Matlacha, were arrested in possession of more than 5,000 pounds of roe mullet with a dock value of about $7,500. The men also had some 900 yards of gill net aboard their boat.

Officer Seth Montgomery had set up a surveillance on the Gulf side of Cayo Costa, an island south of Boca Grande. When he spotted the netters at work, he radioed officer Lar Gregory, standing by nearby in a patrol boat, to check them out.

The commission said as Gregory approached the net boat, the two men jumped overboard and swam to shore. They stripped off their gear and began running down the beach - but ran directly into Montgomery, who arrested them.

Morse said McClenithan had been charged in October with scheming to defraud through illegal sale of $100,000 worth of saltwater products with a suspended saltwater products license. He also was arrested in June for net-transit violations, lingering in inshore waters with a net illegal for use in those waters.

The boat the netters were using did not belong to them, as is often the case in illegal netting, because gear belonging to violators and in use during a violation can be confiscated. The mullet were confiscated, but because the catch was so huge, officers were not able to process and ice the fish in a timely manner and the catch could not be sold.

The roe mullet run typically continues into January, with legal cast- net fishermen usually making catches of 500 to 1,000 pounds a day as the fish mass and move out of the bays and rivers to head offshore to spawn. Most of the roe is sold to the Orient. MORE OFFICERS: Poachers are likely to have a tougher time in the months ahead, as Florida's conservation commission increased the number of woods and waters officers by 39 with graduation ceremonies last week in Tallahassee.

Beth Smith, management consultant with the law enforcement division, said it is now the largest resource enforcement agency in the country and is still seeking more recruits to attend the enforcement academy.

The agency totals 712 positions, including 460 field officers, 111 field supervisors and 57 investigators, Smith said.

"We're adding 10 more positions in February, 25 more over the next five years,'' said Smith, adding a new class of 40 officers will begin training next spring, mostly to fill staff vacancies.

"We are always looking for qualified people,'' Smith said.

She said most successful applicants have college degrees or military or law enforcement backgrounds. Age range is broad, with current graduates from 22 to 45 years old.

Smith said officers are paid during the 28-week training regimen, and begin work afterward at the base field officer salary of $30,041, with added stipends in high cost- of-living areas.

For more information, call (850) 539-2870, or visit www.myfwc.com  SEA TROUT

UPDATE:

The sea trout season reopens in the south zone at the end of this month. According to reports from around the southeast shore of Tampa Bay, the winter bite has picked up significantly.

Fish are being caught in the lower rivers as well as in potholes in the flats, most on jigs, plastic shrimp imitations or live shrimp.

Because trout can't be kept for two more weeks, Florida's conservation commission biologists recommend anglers debarb hooks and use dehooking tools to release fish without touching them. Trout that are handled usually do not survive long after release.

MAINTENANCE CLINIC: Reel repair expert Dave Gerringer joins captain Mel Berman of WFLA, 970 AM, for a tackle maintenance clinic tonight at 7 at Gator Ford, at exit 10 off I-4 east of Tampa. For more information call (813) 980-3673. KAYAK TRIPS: The American Littoral Society will hold kayak trips with naturalist John Sarkozy on Dec. 22-23 at Myakka River State Park. The $25 fee includes kayak rental. For more information call (941) 966-7308.

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