Editing, sequencing and generally going through my photo archives to put together a coherent story about Cedar Key’s net-fishing and clam farming history that I photographed I had to re-examine the 1995 Florida Net-Ban. A generation has grown up since the amendment to the Florida Constitution passed and shut down small scale, inshore net fishing throughout the State.
Although I lived in Cedar Key while the Net-Ban passed I never fully grasped the facts surrounding it. It is now clear that the information I received through newspapers and other established news outlets was badly tainted, and since the internet was still in its toddler stage not much information came that way. Looking backward I think this is pretty much what happened:
It had never realized that there was a connection between the Florida Net-Ban, which put inshore Florida fisherman out of business in 1995, and the deindustrialization of America.
However, working my way through the net-ban history I realize that the net ban, which I always assumed came about through pressure by environmentalists was actually pushed and engineered by a pro-net-ban lobby consisting of sport fishermen, their allies, and supporters such as the Florida Conservation Association, and Save Our Sealife, [SOS] with its volunteer force of 13,000 and budget of $1.2 million The outboard motor industry, tourism industry, and developers, were also on the side of sport-fishermen, as well as the Legislature and the Governor’s office. The main driving force behind the movement was the Florida Sportsman Magazine and its publisher. Many of the tactics used by net-ban supporters were propaganda, aimed at the commercial fisherman, degrading them as “white booted thugs, raping the environment.” (White booted refers to the short white boots the fishermen, and anybody working on the water, preferred to wear to keep their feet dry.) Also, the Florida press was generally pro-net ban with the Florida Sportsman Magazine exercising significant influence over five major Florida papers, among them the Tampa Tribune, Tallahassee Democrat, and Gainesville Sun, by having paid employees of the magazine write for these papers.
The conflict of interest between sports fishermen and commercial fishermen along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States started heating up in the 1980s. In a small way, we saw early signs of that in Cedar Key when we went to our local hangout, Richburg’s Café, for morning coffee. It had a table reserved for ‘Michiganders’ who had moved to Cedar Key or were Snowbirds, living here part-time. I could not figure out why all these people from Michigan were in town. What I did not realize was that Michigan was part of the area that was beginning to be referred to as the Rust Belt because it was experiencing catastrophic job losses as a result of the offshoring of its industrial jobs. So there was a direct link between the net-ban, the loss of American jobs, and the outwards migration of workers from industrial cities who settled in Southern coastal areas and took up sports fishing as a hobby. This in-migration into Florida was welcomed by the growing service industry, developers and politicians, and it did not take long to turn Florida into the sports fishing capital of the world, totally crushing the few commercial, inshore net fishermen who were perceived as being a threat to the sportfishing industry, and the environment. This perception ignored the damage caused by the explosive population growth bringing about the destruction of much of Florida’s environment, including fish habitat along the coast. In a classical ‘smoke and mirrors’ move, attention from this environmental disaster was successfully diverted to the small number of “white booted thugs, raping the environment” with the passage of Amendment 3 to the Florida Constitution, the Net-Ban, in 1994.