Letter to the Alabama Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Committee re: stop HB258 allowing gill nets on the TN River


April 14, 2015

Dear Ms. Robertson,

I see that you are listed as the Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Committee clerk. As not all of the committee members have email addresses, could you please print a copy of this email and give it to the committee, especially to Mr. Tim Melson and Mr. Larry Stutts- our two state senators from the Tennessee River region. Thank you in advance.

I have deep concerns regarding HB 258- a bill that would allow for the use of gill nets on the Tennessee River. Universally, everyone to whom I have mentioned this bill to have replied- “No way that anyone would allow that.” and “That’s horrible! Why would they do that?” Another question that is often asked in these conversations is- “That (allowing gill netting) can only benefit a small group of people.”

The thing is, the bill itself is short on many details. In fact, it is short on details, period. Contrast the “details” of HB258 with the details of SB84 regarding “tall grass and weeds” and the dangers posed by such “tall grass and weeds”. And the penalties and timelines for rectifying the “tall grass and weeds”. Shouldn’t something as important as the Tennessee River and its unique spectrum of wildlife and world renown for Bass Fishing (especially trophy Smallmouth Bass) be at least treated to a piece of legislation that goes into specifics regarding net length, mesh size, penalties for by-catch, retrieval and penalties for lost nets, details for net placement, etc. As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details” and the cynical part of me believes that this is why details were left out of HB258- to hide those devilish details that make gill netting an almost universally unpopular method of fishing.

I have yet to find one person that believes allowing gill nets on the Tennessee River to be a good idea. The Tennessee River is the crown jewel of our area and brings in hundreds of millions of dollars from tourism, real estate, fishing, tournaments, boating, etc.

Allowing gill nets would bring in how much revenue? What amount of tax dollars? These questions are examples of details missing. And therein awaits another devil- if the amount expected is low- then why allow gill netting? And if the amount of revenue expected is high- then the question becomes- how many tons of fish are expected to be caught? And who is going to pay for the monitoring of the effects on the river of those tons of fish being caught? As one person on Facebook commented to me, he has gone years without having his license checked by a Game and Fish officer- which doesn’t lend itself to confidence that the Game and Fish department has enough resources to monitor daily gill net fishing. And with the added need to check on the gill net fishing, that would take the conservation officers attention from other areas of their already busy jobs. We know that the Game and Fish department is understaffed, and gill netting is an industry that needs to be heavily monitored. What are the plans for monitoring the gill net operations? Will the estimated tax dollars to be brought in by the gill net industry cover the tax dollars needed to monitor the industry?

One detail that is in the bill- the striking out of the word “night” to allow gill netting only in the daytime. Is the committee aware that game fish are more active during the day while many of the “trash fish” (so-called by the bill’s sponsor, Mr. Lynn Greer) are most active at night? And that this day/night activity of game fish changes with the seasons?

Another detail missing from the bill- the bill states that gill net fishing would be allowed on the Tennessee River and its tributaries- does that mean gill netting would be allowed on Cypress Creek? First Creek? Second Creek? Bluewater Creek? Bear Creek? Gill netting does seem to be allowed based on the language. Is the committee aware of just how LARGE an area that is? Again, what are the plans for monitoring the gill net operations?

Finally, has the committee heard the term “ghost nets”? Ghost nets are gill nets that become snagged or lost and cannot be retrieved. Those nets continue to trap fish, turtles, mammals, amphibians, and birds beneath the water with no one to free them. Ghost nets do not discriminate between “trash” fish and game fish. They drown all unlucky enough to become ensnared. They are aptly named as ghost nets. Ghost nets are a reality anywhere gill nets are allowed.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. I urge the committee to kill this bill in committee and not allow it to come up for a vote as happened the last time this bill was raised.

Kind regards from a concerned citizen,

Daniel Spurgeon