Gillnets have been the “monster under the bed” to recreational anglers for many years and as a consequence has become the default whipping boy for any group or individual with an axe to grind about how fishing regulations are affecting their sector of the fishing industry. Back in the old days when gillnets went virtually unregulated they did pose a threat to the resource from over-fishing.Â Now, with restrictions to include length of net, mesh sizes, area closures and times nets are allowed to be fished, the number of gillnet licenses issued and the increased cost of a license the fishing of gillnet fishermen pose only a limited and primarily fictional threat to any sector of the angling community. Out of state gillnet fishermen number far fewer than resident netters. Total commercial net licensee sold number 120 or so. The Alabama Marine Resources Division has commercial and recreational licensing information going back for many years, including the revenue generated from license purchases, that documents the changes in gillnet fishing participation.When you look at fishing with a blind eye, it is only the amount of fishing effort and how it is applied to the resource that is of concern. It does not matter how it is done, be it with gillnets, traps, hook and line, shrimp trawls or any other gear it is the effort that matters and it is the only thing that can be regulated. Whether changing type of gear(s), areas fished, amount of time that one is allowed to fish, length limits or the amount of the catch allowed it is still effort that is being manipulated either directly or indirectly. Public health has been mentioned as a concern related to gill netting activity. Other than some discarded fish collected by the current and rotting in a small area or someone occasionally stepping on a fish, gill nets pose no health threat that I am aware of.By-catch of non-commercial or game species such as red drum and spotted seatrout by gillnet fishermen is going to happen just like it will with any gear. Due to the net length and mesh sizes, time and area restrictions placed on netters by-catch has been minimized. The species netters are primarily after are mullet and Spanish mackerel and flounder in the fall. Mullet and Spanish are schooling species and not primarily associated with game fish. The effect on charter fishing due to gillnetting is not documented to my knowledge and given the species the two angling groups target, primarily schooling vs. reef fish, I do not see any clear cut way that they could. It sounds a lot like people are being told what to be afraid of and who is to blame? Anglers in Alabama and the Gulf Coast should know from years of experience with angling politics that finger pointing and shouting wolf has been done before.In the 1960’s I used to work with a Hungarian woman picking blueberries during the summer months. We would sit down in the shade for lunch each afternoon and she would to tell me about her life as a young girl. It turned out that German “Einstaz Commandos” arrested her and her family in 1944 when she was 13 and shipped them off to Auschwitz. She was spared from immediate death because she could sew, while the rest of her family was gassed. Before the camp was liberated in 1945 she hid for five days in a pile of bodies so she would not be shot. I asked her if she was still mad at the Nazis who did all those terrible things to her and her family? She said she was not as angry with the Nazis as she was with those who just stood by and did nothing while she and her family were dragged away. Mrs. Rocz died five years later due to complications from the beatings and broken bones she suffered in the camp. Maybe there is a lesson in her words for us all or will they be lost – lost like tear drops in the rain?Recent legislation in Montgomery seems to focus on buying gillnet fishermen’s licenses. I guess if you can’t wipe them out of existence, buy them out. If this ˜bargain” is taken and gill-netters give up their licenses, knowing that they will never get it back. Isn’t there story in a book about someone who sold his birthright? Wouldn’t it be better if the licenses were saleable another netter.
Think Global – Act Local!