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Tribute to Dad: Father of the Coast

POSTED: July 3, 2007 5:02 a.m.
Most people have a special someone in their lives they call or consider Dad.
On this very special day, as we honor all the dads in our own lives, The Coastal Courier recognizes contributing columnist Allen Branch.
Branch has provided readers with his fishing reports for a number of years. But many in the community may not be aware he was actually among a small group of people who began the conservation efforts to protect our coasts and certain species of fish.
“I don’t think people realize just how much my father did toward the conservation of the coast and the fishing industry,” Anne Ramsey, Branch’s daughter said. “He lives for his kids and his family. But he also lives for the rivers and oceans in our community. Many of the fish species that people enjoy fishing for now would have been wiped out if not for his efforts in changing legislation.”
Branch moved his family from Savannah to Colonel’s Island in 1951. Back then the road from Midway into Colonel’s Island was dirt.
Ramsey recounted how she and her brothers, Bobby and Don, loved their life by the water while her mom cried for weeks thinking they had moved to the end of the world.
“At first, there was hardly anyone living around here, but, little by little, more and more people bought property around the area and it became a wonderful community. I can’t imagine ever living anywhere but here,” Ramsey said.
Weekend trips to the shores of St. Catherine’s Island were something Ramsey and the rest of their family and friends thoroughly enjoyed.
“Back then, very few people knew about the beach and we practically had the whole place to ourselves. Dad and his best friend, the late Elton Hodges, would take the entire family out there and drop us off on the beach while they went fishing.
“We would picnic, swim, see big turtles, find alligator eggs, and see dolphins and many other splendid and wonderful things. We didn’t realize how special these outings were, and I am truly grateful for the trips Daddy afforded us to this pristine and wonderful place,” she said.
Branch owned and operated one of the first marinas on Colonel’s Island. Simply called Branch’s Marina, known now as the Half Moon Marina, it was the beginning of what Ramsey considers her father’s living legacy - the protection of species and maintenance of the areas pristine coastline.
Branch owned the marina for more than 30 years and eventually ran a fishing charter. It was during this time he realized the need for conservationism.
“Back then they would come back from a day of fishing and have literally hundreds of fish; more than could be used or eaten or sold. The fishermen, not knowing any better, would throw the extra dead fish back into the waters. My father realized that eventually this would lead to the devastation of certain species of fish and began to do something about it,” Ramsey said.
In 1976, Congress formed a four-state council to prevent over-fishing by foreign and domestic ships within 200 miles of the Atlantic Coast. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council consisted of 13 members representing Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Branch served as the council’s vice chairman in 1981-1982 and the chairman in 1982-1983.
As the councilman representing Georgia, Branch worked diligently toward legislation and resolutions that would be fair to both commercial and recreational fishermen.
While chairman, he formed the Law Enforcement and the Environmental Protection Committee. He helped locate and develop new fishing grounds for speckled trout and other species of game fish and consulted with various agencies in the development of oyster beds and pollution control.
His marina was used by the University of Georgia for research and by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for game management. He also aided the county rescue unit and worked with the U.S. Coast Guard helping stranded boaters from Sapelo Sound to Bear River.
“He loves fishing. It’s his passion. But he understood how important it was to keep things in perspective and ensure the coastline, beaches and fishing industry would be around for future generations to enjoy,” Ramsey said.
In August 1994, Branch retired from the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council after completing six consecutive terms, thereby becoming the longest serving council member in the nation.
His love for fishing and family continues to this day. Branch celebrated his birthday in May climbing into the late 80’s. In April, he and his wife, Katherine “Kitty,” celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary. They met in Savannah when Kitty worked as an usherette at the Lucas Theater.
Together, they had three children, Bobby, Anne and Don.
Tragically it was on a Father’s Day their eldest son, Bobby, was killed in a wreck.
“We still love to get together and go to the beach. Our kids get the opportunity to enjoy what Daddy worked so hard to preserve,” Ramsey said. “We have to treasure every minute we have together.
“Daddy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about three years ago, but luckily it was caught early and he is doing very well on the medication they give him.”
Branch continues to write a weekly column for the Coastal Courier called Tight Line and enjoys living along the coast taking in the scenery he fought so hard to maintain.
“He doesn’t get to go out and fish as much anymore, but he gets his fishing reports and he sits and types away, he still loves it,” he said. “I look forward to our little get-together and cooking up a big pot of his favorite chicken and dumplings.”
His children, their spouses, seven grandchildren and your nine great-grandchildren wish him a happy Father’s Day.
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