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Gil Muratori teaches a unique class in fish etiquette

He's part of a National Park Service experiment in south Florida to send first-time fishing violators to a school instead of fining them.

By Richard LuscombeCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 16, 2008


Gil Muratori fits the part of a fishing boat captain. He is perpetually tanned, smiles out of a face weathered from being at sea four days a week, and likes to repeat the mantra: "If you're too busy to go fishing, you're too busy." He also has the stories to confirm that he has spent the past 28 years plying the waters off south Florida rather than sitting in some corporate cubicle. Like the time a shark latched onto his arm, which required 35 stitches. Or the times he has been pricked by poisonous catfish. And the innumerable times his hands have been on the wrong side of a balky fishhook.

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Now Mr. Muratori is using his nautical experiences – both good and bad – to teach what may be the nation's only federally sanctioned class in proper fishing etiquette. In an unusual experiment, the National Park Service hired Muratori recently to lecture people who break the rules when fishing in Florida's Biscayne Bay. The idea is to teach first-time violators about the catch limits on striped mullet or the appropriate season for snook and stone crab, rather than slap them with fines.

In that sense, the new "fisheries education course" here is similar to the driving-school classes in California and other states that allow scofflaws to avoid citations and marks on their record by sitting for a few hours in a classroom.

"You're a lot smarter if you learn from someone else's mistakes rather than making your own just once," says Muratori.

By all accounts, Muratori is well suited for the job. When he came to Miami from Chicago on vacation in 1980, he never went back – in part because of a newfound passion for the sea.

Almost every day since, the man who takes constant ribbing for his "fishy" first name has been plying the waters off south Florida in his skiff or taking others out to fish. The gregarious septuagenarian has long served as president of the South Dade Anglers club and frequently speaks at schools to "explain" his sport. His intimate knowledge of local fishing grounds, and almost every species that lurks beneath, have proved invaluable in tutoring the oceanic offenders.

"Mr. Muratori has a good presentation," says Jorge Martinez, a fisherman from Homestead, Fla., who has taken his class. "I learned a lot."

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Certainly plenty of ignorance exists on the high seas. Richard Curry, ocean reef and science program manager for Biscayne National Park, says he started the first-of-its-kind fishing school because he noticed that many of the violations boaters were committing were simply the result of not knowing the rules on minimum fish sizes and bag limits. Nor did some skippers even recognize the kinds of fish they were catching.

His solution: enforcement through education. "Why not give them the opportunity to learn regulations rather than slamming them with a fine?" Mr. Curry thought. "It works for drivers, after all."

It probably worked for Mr. Martinez, too. When he was cited for hauling in four undersized fish on his brother's 21-foot boat, he attended Muratori's class and learned the minimum allowable size for lane snapper (8 inches versus the 16 inches for the mutton snapper he thought he had been catching).

The class provided an evening's entertainment – and, most important, allowed him to dodge a $400 fine. "It was going to be a hundred bucks for each one," says Martinez. "I just got them confused with another fish. They looked very similar."