Originally created 02/11/99

Lawmakers try to ease salt-water fishing regulation



ATLANTA -- Several coastal Georgia lawmakers are trying to make life easier for their region's recreational salt-water fishermen.

Democratic state Reps. Hinson Mosley of Jesup and Eugene Tillman of Brunswick, and Republican Reps. Stephen Scarlett of St. Simons Island and Terry Barnard of Glennville are behind a series of bills that would roll back restrictions placed on salt-water sport fishing just last year.

"These folks have been fishing for 250 years without a license," said Mr. Scarlett, chief sponsor of a House bill to repeal a new law requiring a license for recreational salt-water fishing from public docks or piers.

"I'm just trying to give them a break."

Besides the fishing-license bill, other measures would ease restrictions on sport fishing for Whiting and spotted seatrout, and allow recreational shrimpers to use a technique that yields better hauls.

A bill sponsored by Mr. Mosley and Mr. Barnard would eliminate all restrictions on recreational fishing for Whiting. Under current law, sport fishermen may bring in no more than 35 Whiting per day, and aren't allowed to catch fish smaller than 10 inches.

The measure also would reduce the minimum size for spotted seatrout catches from 13 inches to 12 inches.

Bob Smith of Jesup, president of the Wayne County Sports Fishermen's Association, said limiting hauls of Whiting -- a plentiful fish -- to 35 a day gives recreational fishermen a poor return on the money they spend for a license, bait, gas, oil and property taxes on their boats.

"You can figure $100 every time you go out there," he said. "You ought to be able to catch a good mess."

But Duane Harris, director of the state Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division, said the agency opposes lifting all restrictions on Whiting because of concerns about depleting the stock.

"Whiting has all of a sudden become a very popular fish in coastal Georgia," he said. "With that kind of pressure, we feel there ought to be some control over how many can be removed."

Mr. Harris said the department also will push to keep the minimum size for spotted seatrout catches at 13 inches, based on a recent stock assessment of the species conducted by the department.

But Mr. Harris said the agency is not taking a position on whether the state should require a license for salt-water fishing from a dock or pier, which he called a policy question rather than a resource issue.

The licenses cost $9 for in-state residents and $24 for out-of-staters.

The department also is not weighing in on a Mosley-Barnard bill that would allow recreational shrimpers to use duct tape or other material to hold their cast nets open. The technique, first used in Georgia waters by Florida shrimpers, makes it easier to catch more shrimp in less time.

"Instead of having to, say, spend 12 hours out there, (shrimpers) maybe stay six hours and catch their limit," said Mr. Mosley, the bill's chief sponsor.

Mr. Harris said a legislative study commission was behind a law passed last year prohibiting such modifications of cast nets. He said the commission concluded that the technique could hurt the commercial shrimping industry by giving recreational shrimpers too much potential to catch large quantities close to shore.

But Mr. Harris said the department isn't taking a position in what amounts to a dispute between commercial and recreational shrimpers.