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Florida Loosens Fishing Rules for Vets

In today’s economy, it can be tough for anyone, especially returning military veterans, to find a job.  Tom Flanigan reports the State of Florida is now trying to make it easier for vets to create their own jobs in the commercial fishing industry.

Every Veterans Day, there are parades, parties, celebrations, proclamations and much rhetoric about service and sacrifice.  Steve Murray with the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs says all this is nice, but it doesn’t pay the rent or put food on the table.

“We have more than 230,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who call Florida home.  They’re coming back; they’re looking for employment.”

At the moment, jobs are still a bit tough to find in Florida, even though the unemployment rate is better now than it was this time a year ago.  That’s why so many returning vets are looking to start businesses of their own.

“That is why we’re excited that on Veterans Day, November 11, 2012, we’re going to be making changes to our commercial fishing license requirement for veterans.”

That’s Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner Chuck Roberts.  He stood in front of the Commission’s Tallahassee headquarters two days before Veterans Day to announce the changes.  All commercial fishing in Florida requires a saltwater product license.  And until now, all licensees need a special endorsement to catch certain fish that are on the “restricted species” list.

“Some of those fish are Spanish and King Mackeral, Flounder, Mahi, and several reef fish that are among those that are restricted species.”

Those are considered the “money” fish and getting state government permission to harvest them has not been easy.  Under the old rule, commercial fishers had to prove that at least five-thousand dollars, or a quarter of their total yearly income at least once in the past three years, had to come from the sale of saltwater menu items.  The new rule would give recent honorably discharged veterans and disabled vets a break from that rule for a year.   Fish and Wildlife’s Jessica McCawley says the vets themselves helped make the change happen.

“We have been hearing from veterans that are returning from active duty that are trying to re-enter the work force and so we have gotten a lot of requests for this type of opportunity.”

How many veterans might this opportunity employ?  The Commission’s Amanda Nalley says it would be more than a few.

“We believe on a yearly basis, including all Florida veterans that are eligible and veterans with disabilities, that this will affect about six hundred folks a year.”

And where might those vets locate their fishing business?  President of the Organized Fishermen of Florida Ronnie Day says there have been some recent problems in a few areas, but….

“Some of the commercial fisheries are very healthy.  And some of them are going to get back healthy because we’ve already over-regulated them and as we ease up on the regulation that allows more commercial fishing.  Just because we got one fishery that’s in trouble right now, there’s plenty of work to do out here.”

The fishery in the biggest trouble is in the Gulf around the mouth of the Apalachicola River in Northwest Florida.  Its iconic oyster beds are in such bad shape, the state has shut down harvesting until the end of next May.   Even so, the State Department of Veterans Affairs’ Steve Murray sees the commercial fishing rule change as a positive service for those who’ve served.

“Many of our returning veterans grew up in coastal communities, they love to fish themselves and now they can make a living at it and this just helps to ease the burden for licensure and helps them get that job.”

And who knows?  A bit of military efficiency and “can-do” attitude may help reverse the fortunes of Florida’s sometimes floundering commercial fishing industry. 

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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