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The Political Round-Up

Class clash or resource management?; Passing the plate; Not meant to be; Paranoia will annoy ya; Visions of the old Cawthorn Hotel; 20-20 nights in Chickasaw;
Space, space everywhere but nary a place to park
 
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Observations on the passing scene:

Class clash or resource management?
Wednesday may tell the tale on proposed legislation to outlaw gill net fishing in Alabama waters.

The bill is on the agenda when the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee meets in Montgomery Wednesday.

Ban proponents are focused on terms of a buyout of the state’s 105-120 licensed commercial gill netters and the half dozen or so seafood processors that they supply. For their part, commercial seafood interests are now more inclined to compromise on alterations in the size of the mesh of the nets, hours of operations and limits on landings, concessions short of an outright ban on the use of gill nets in commercial fishing.

State Rep. Jamie Ison, R-Mobile, sponsor of the bill to end commercial gill netting, said recreational fishing leaders are amenable to a five-year, $8 increase in the annual cost of a saltwater fishing license to generate revenue to fund the buyout. Based on the 80,000 licenses that were sold last year, the plan would produce $640,000 annually or $3.2 million total.

“What we’re talking about is certainly the most generous buyout offer for commercial fishermen that I’ve seen anywhere (among Gulf Coast states that have addressed the commercial gill net issue),” said Ison.

Ison said it was also worth noting that neither she nor the bill’s supporters seek to ban commercial fishing.
 
“We’re not telling them they can’t commercially fish,” she said. “They can still use other tools, for example, a cast net like in Florida that is 500 square feet of net. This is a different way to do it. You actually target a particular school. You throw the net over the school so you shouldn’t have near the problem with by-catch.”

“Florida has had a pretty substantial commercial catch using that net, so my argument is that we are proposing a generous buyout and not precluding them from catching fish, just requiring different methods to catch the fish,” she said.

State Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Bayou la Batre, who is marshaling opposition to the ban on commercial gill netting, said he had heard of the spring-assisted cast nets, but had never seen one. He said south Alabama fishermen have told him that type of net would not be useful to them.

Beth Lyons, lobbyist and former state legislator who is managing legislative strategy for the commercial seafood interests, contends Ison's bill will "put commercial fishermen totally out of work" this fall.

According to Lyons, the gill net ban would "destroy the commercial fishing communities of Bayou La Batre and Bon Secour." The buyout as proposed would be a case of little and late, she asserted. Furthermore, the bill harms crabbers, charter boat operations, net makers, seafood processors and equipment suppliers, not to mention non-boat owners who will not be able to get flounder, sheepshead, mullet, mackerel and other fish.

"All of this so that recreational fishermen can catch a few more Spanish mackerel," said Lyons.

Ban proponents haven't compromised in any appreciable way, according to both Lyons and Collier.

"I think it's pretty obvious that they are the ones who will not compromise," said Collier. "We've accepted the commissioner's regulations and changes. We're not happy about them. But they (ban advocates) are all or nothing to put us out of business. That is what they want. That's not acceptable. It's not right to take folks' livelihoods, totally putting them out of business.

Collier acknowledged "Wednesday as a big day."

He noted that state Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes, is advancing a proposal that would provide for the elimination of commercial gill nets over three years.

Fincher said his amendment may or may not be adopted, but his intent was to ease the burden on commercial fishermen by giving them time to convert to other methods of fishing or to explore other avenues of work.

"This phase-out period would give them more choices," he said. "They can continue (fishing with gill nets) for three years or they can stop immediately and participate in the buyout program that the state would be offering. I think my amendment is a little more fair. It gives them more options. It's not the best option to their thinking, I know that. But we're trying to help the process along and trying to make the best of the situation, given the hand that we're dealt."

"Whether you have three years to get out of business or whether you're out of business today, you're still out of business," Collier said. "I'm disappointed. Folks I thought were principled are making unprincipled decisions."     

Ison said the bill was being further refined to cap the number of recreational gill nets used in state waters. Additionally, the fine for the sale of a game fish would apply equally to the offending fisherman regardless of whether the fish was caught in a commercial gill net or by hook and line. 

Backers of the ban insist that the buyout be finite, and not voluntary. Their concern, said Ison, is that 80 percent of the commercial gill netters could agree to the buyout, leaving in business the 20 percent who are catching 85 percent of the fish and thus having no practical effect on protecting the future of the resource.

Just as it is wrong for recreational fishermen in their Columbia shirts and Costa sunglasses to make light of the white rubber-booted gill netter making $20,000-25,000 a year, it is wrong for commercial seafood spokespersons to portray recreational fishermen as rich and greedy, said Ison. Most of the 80,000 or so saltwater fishermen are dads taking their kids fishing in a small boat on weekends, she said.

The very existence of the commercial fishery is not negotiable, Collier said.

"I really believe even if this was not (a huge issue) in my district -- and really it's only half my district with the other half in Bon Secour -- I really believe even if these folks were not my constituents, I couldn't support government putting people out of business," said Collier. "I'm a property rights, small business, conservative guy. Some of my colleagues have disappointed me. I'm just disappointed. I won't mention anyone by name but I'm disappointed. Jamie is a friend. We'll still be friends afterward. She believes in what she's doing. I think she's wrong. Some other folks are looking for a compromise where they don't have to take a hard position one way or the other. Issues like this are the reason why I ran. I want to stand for the principled thing and this is one of them."  

While most eyes will be on committee members Ison and Collier, the key figure should anything definitive occur on the issue Wednesday will more likely be state Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, who chairs the committee.

Even if the bill gets out of committee, Collier said he had plenty of fight left in him, suggesting the issue was important enough to him that he was willing to risk some good will by filibustering and disrupting the plans of others in this legislative session.

Passing the plate
State Rep. Jim Barton, R-Mobile, is sponsoring legislation to create an Alabama saltwater sportsman's license plate, similar to the outdoor wildlife tag that sports a deer and generates an additional $1 million annually for conservation efforts in Alabama.

Initially, revenues from sales of the tag will go toward the buyout of commercial gill net interests, assuming that legislation is adopted, he said.

Subsequent revenues from the special tag will be directed to reef restoration in the Mobile River Delta and in Mobile Bay, said Barton. The monies would not go into the general fund, he emphasized.

Barton said he expected the tag to start off slowly but quickly gain in popularity to the point where he estimated revenues of $400,000-600,000 a year.

"This (the saltwater sportsman's tag) will be a much better looking one than the wildlife tag with the deer on it," Barton said.

Although the design is not finished, Barton anticipated an image of a redfish, a speckled trout and a king mackerel circling a baitfish. 

The specialty tags cost an extra $50 each.

According to Barton, the Coastal Conservation Association has pledged $50,000 guaranteeing the sale of at least 1,001 of the tags.

Barton said he intends to land the first one.

Perhaps another time, another place
Political conspiracies and emotion aside, common sense says Semmes need not fear annexation into the city of Mobile as long as Sam Jones is mayor. With Semmes in the city, Jones might well wind up out at City Hall. Semmes is 99 percent white and Jones is 100 percent black, but their political incompatibility probably has less to do with race (substitute former Mayor Mike Dow for Jones and the rationale still applies) and more to do with philosophy. Semmes residents prefer basic, no frills government whereas Jones/Dow are perceived as champions of expansive government.

As targets for annexation, commercial activities along the Schillingers Road corridor are an altogether different matter, however. Conspire and rant at will.

Visions of the Cawthorn
According to a Mobile travel industry veteran, there has been "serious interest by out-of-town developers for a major mid- to upper-scale hotel flag to build on Bienville Square, with some 'curiosity' about the (old) Gayfers property" as well as other potential sites facing the square.

Keep Mobile Beautiful Great America Cleanup extended
Because of larger than expected participation in the 19th annual Great American Cleanup, the cleanup has been extended through May 26.

KMB seeks interested groups or individuals to identify a littered area around their home, church, school or work place to clean up.

KMB will provide a litter cleanup kit for registered groups.  The kit includes free GLAD trash bags, and, if needed, safety vests, gloves and litter grabbers.

Dianne Martin, KMB president, said, “I think the interest in the Great American Cleanup this year is directly related to Mayor (Sam) Jones and his emphasis in cleaning up Mobile. The revised Litter Ordinance has increased the fine for littering to $406. Police and other city employees are writing more tickets for littering. I think people are just more aware of the litter problem and want to take action and help clean it up.”

To get involved in the Great American Cleanup and to reserve a cleanup kit for your group, call Keep Mobile Beautiful at 208-6029 or visit “view all news” at www.cityofmobile.org for registration information.

GOP to fete Riley here
The MobileGOP will host a reception honoring Governor Bob Riley      Thursday, April 26 in the Mobile Museum of Art at Langan Park from 5-7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for non-MobileGOP members or admission can be gained by joining the MobileGOP for $15.00/person or $30.00/couple for annual dues. Dress for the occasion is business attire. There will be hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar.

It ain't paranoia if people are out to get you
A person is not paranoid if people really are out to get him, is he?

Embattled Mobile County Commissioner Juan Chastang can add the names of prospective Democratic opponents to the list of those who would bring about the appointed GOP commissioner's political demise. Among those being mentioned as possible contenders for the Democratic nomination in the County Commission District 1 race next year are former Vigor and Auburn football player Lectron Williams, former Mobile City Councilman Thomas Sullivan, current City Councilman William Carroll, former assistant county attorney Merceria Ludgood and Prichard City Councilman Troy Ephraim. No word on prospective GOP challengers.

Ever since his appointment by Gov. Bob Riley to fill the commission vacancy created when Sam Jones won the Mobile mayorship, Chastang has been beset by Democratic officials challenging his right to hold office. More recently he accused his fellow Republican Commissioner Stephen Nodine of having a vendetta against him. The news media roughed up Chastang a bit over his sponsorship of a charitable concert that tanked, costing the county $50,000 from his discretionary education fund.

Seeing clearly on a Chickasaw night
U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL) recently  announced a $4,564.98 grant to the Chickasaw Police Department from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The money was  made available through the Homeland Security Department's Commercial Equipment Direct Assistance Program (CEDAP) and will be used to acquire night vision goggles.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted $15,500.93 to the Saraland Fire and Rescue Department through CEDAP and the money will be used to acquire a handheld chemical agent detector, according to Bonner.

Space, space everywhere but nary a place to park
For a study of parking in downtown Mobile, the Downtown Mobile Alliance is surveying the public "to fully understand the issues and opportunities related to parking in downtown," according to DMA executive director Elizabeth Sanders.
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