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


Anonymous said...

You seem to be trying to create a lot of hysteria in the media / public by SLANTING, or misrepresenting scientific studies done 1500 miles north of here.

As a lifelong Agricultural scientist with 50 years of field experience, I can testify that if gill nets are outlawed the invasive species, Asian Carp, will over run our wonderful lakes & then there will be NO sport fishing!
All of the “Oxbow” Lakes along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Chicago have been ruined by these fish.
They are already in Kentucky Lake in great numbers.
We have them here on Lake Guntersville, and, according to the Al Dep. Wildlife electroshocking surveys done 2 weeks ago, (I was on the water with them), they are increasing.

Please get your facts straight & quit slanting the data to prove your non existent point.
I approve of gill netting, do it myself on my private lake (Flower Lake) in Tunica county miss.
We are harvesting fish for Moon River Foods, Indianola, Ms. who have spent 5 million building a processing plant to employ 80 people per shift. They were assisted & encouraged by the MS State Dept of Economic Dev. the Governor & the Delta Council, Ms Dept of Wildlife & Miss State Univ. .
The fish products are for human consumption to be shipped to China.
They have hired 20 fishermen, bought $250K of boats & motors, and expect to be processing 80K pounds per day!

Help educate the public to the real facts, not contribute to the hysteria.

Gill net fishing with the proper size nets, minimum 4 inch squares as in other states, will not detract from the sport fishery.
4 inch squares stretch to 8 inches and most any sport fish can get thru that.
Plus, carp species are filter feeders & keep moving, while sport fish suspend. A seine may catch sport fish when pulled or dragged, but these are not allowed. A trap net like a hoop net may catch a few, if placed in a current funnel point, but they are primarily used for catfish with bait.
Do some research, your enemy is not the commercial fishermen. They are your friends & colleagues.
And when the Asian Carp ruin your lakes as they have mine, you’ll beg them to come use nets!


Daniel Spurgeon said...

This is the first time that the words "Asian Carp" have been used. The bill itself does not present itself regarding the purpose of introducing gill net as for the removal of the invasive species, "Asian Carp" (a designation that describes more than one species.)

My question to you is, why not? Why not introduce the bill, with scientific evidence, and an explanation to the public as to the reasons why that gill nets need to be used? It seems to me that you yourself are guilty of trying to create hysteria in attempt to get the bill passed- "the Asian Carp are going to destroy the Tennessee River!" If that is so, then why has the state department of fish and game not endorsed this plan. They are quoted as saying that they are neither for or against the plan. They certainly must not be aware of the imminent danger that you speak of.

As I have written many times, and is pointed out in my letter to the committee- this bill is horridly short on details. You mention a gill net size of 4". The bill doesn't. You mention the need to catch the Asian Carp which can then be sold commercially to a Chinese firm, such as the Moon River Foods corporation in Indianola, MS. The bill mentions none of these things. The bill doesn't mention how to track and fine for lost nets- including for the costs to retrieve the nets. It doesn't detail fines or punishment for dead by-catch. The bill doesn't detail the limits of fish such as catfish. It doesn't detail how many fish may be caught per day. It is shamefully lacking any detail.

Do we really want to rush such a bad bill into law? Studies need to be performed. The Department of Natural Resources is going to have to make an opinion one way or the other. They need to tell us whether or not the Asian Carp are a "sky is falling" problem.

From everything that I have read- there is a dearth of research regarding the effects of commercial gill nets on a river. There are lots of studies for gill nets in the oceans and large bodies of water... but a paucity of research on river systems.

Perhaps you should volunteer your expertise to help draw up a better bill. One that includes scientific research- both pro and con- and that, for sure, includes DETAILS. The Tennessee River shouldn't be trifled with in such a hap-hazardous, ill-conceived manner.