Bait and Shackle

For years Everett Hobby has net-fished offshore for ballyhoo. Only recently has he been considered a criminal for doing so.

"The dotted line, what is that called?" an attorney asked him, holding up a navigation map of Apalachee Bay.

"That's the territorial sea baseline," he replied.
"Can you show me on the map where it identifies that it's the territorial sea baseline?" the attorney inquired.

"Well, I can't," he replied. "You're just going to have to take my word for it."

If appellate courts uphold Judge Walker's decision, it will set the precedent for Hobby's trial, according to his attorney, Bob Romani.

"She [the judge] basically said it really places the fisherman in a precarious position, because it's hard for the fisherman to know where they are at any given moment," notes Romani. "The coastline is constantly changing, so you have a net fisherman out there, and it's very, difficult unless you have extremely sophisticated equipment, which most of these guys don't have."

FMP's Hamilton, however, says the line is easy to find with the use of a nautical chart from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a common boating tool called a GPS (Global Positioning System), which uses satellites to determine location. Nonetheless Hamilton admits that some deviation exists on a day-to-day basis. "We can only use the tools we have available," he says.

After his arrest Hobby sold his boat in Palm Beach County. He says fishing off the coast of Miami is tougher because ballyhoo swim farther out and the terrain is less familiar. The cost of additional gasoline and maintenance has increased his business expenses dramatically.

That cost has been passed on to recreational fishermen, according to Mark Montella, the owner of M&M Bait, a Deerfield Beach-based ballyhoo wholesaler. Restrictions on fishing make sense, he says, but adds that Palm Beach County commercial fishermen have in effect been banned from doing their job, causing the wholesale ballyhoo price to increase by more than 30 percent. In retail stores the price has jumped from $4.50 a dozen to $7 a dozen since the ban took effect.

Maybe so, but sport fishermen aren't complaining, says Ted Forsgren, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, one of several recreation and environmental organizations that backed the net ban amendment. Before the ban, he says, entire populations of fish were being decimated by environmentally irresponsible net fishermen. Now sports fishermen are catching more and bigger fish than ever before. And that, he adds, is precisely the law's purpose: to protect natural resources by restricting commercial fishermen to certain areas.

Although ballyhoo aren't endangered, the one-mile limit provides a corridor of protection for them. Larger game fish, such as king mackerel and tarpon, follow right behind the ballyhoo, Forsgren says, creating a steady stream of good days for Florida's thousands of recreational fishermen. And good days of fishing mean good things for Florida: the sport fishing industry, he maintains, is more important to Florida's economy than citrus. Possibly, but Florida's courts will have to determine if a law that protects big fish should make criminals out of small businessmen.

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