The controversy over gill net fishing is flaring-up again. Twenty years ago, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources held public hearings on gill net rules that attracted dozens of angry commercial fishermen.
This time around, a proposed change may be significant to some, but it's unlikely to cause the same commotion.
The commission is considering allowing gill nets made of untreated nylon. Currently, only nets made of bio-degradable cotton or linen are legal in Mississippi.
The DMR staff consulted with USM's school of polymers about the possible use of nylon.
"The only thing we're changing is the material the net is made out of. We'll still have the same amount of fishermen. They'll probably catch the same amount of fish," said Commissioner Richard Gollott.
Still, the CMR heard opposition from two groups which spoke out previously.
"A non-biodegradable rule is going to open up a lot of activity, a lot of fishing activity," said Steve Shepard with the Sierra Club.
"What we don't want to see is a change to some non-biodegradable material that then encourages others to come back into the fishery," added Johnny Marquez with the Coastal Conservation Association.
"Do you see this nylon as being something that's going to create a drastic, crazy problem?" Commissioner Steve Bosarge asked the DMR staff.
"In my opinion, are we going to have a flood of people coming in here? No, we're not. Nylon is an extremely difficult material to use. It's not monofilament. A lot of guys will probably be 'one and done' with it, to be honest with you," responded Matt Hill with the marine fisheries division.
Back in the mid 1990s, there was a fierce debate about gill net fishing regulations. Public meetings attracted large crowds, including a throng of angry fishermen. But this time around, it may be a case of much ado about very little.
You see, there are only eight licensed gill net fishermen in Mississippi. And last year, their total catch was just 2,000 pounds of fish.
The commission directed the staff to draft the recommended changes. A public hearing would be held before any change could take effect.
Also at Tuesday's CMR meeting, Chairman Jimmy Taylor announced he will be stepping down when his term expires in June. He was appointed by former Governor Haley Barbour and is completing his second four year term on the commission.
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