Around 30 local anglers gathered Wednesday at the John W. Stevens Wetlands Education Center in J.F. Gregory Park when representatives from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division presented information about proposed changes to saltwater fishing regulations.
According to Doug Haymans, CRD policy coordinator, the changes would give the DNR the authority to manage all species of saltwater fish.
But some fishermen were concerned the bill would prompt DNR to change the size and catch limit of saltwater fish. However, Haymans explained this was not the case.
“(This bill) gives us the ability to do that, but right now we intend to leave things status quo,” he said.
State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, who attended the meeting, said though there were concerns from citizens, he believes when necessary, the DNR should be allowed take action — not lawmakers in Atlanta.
“What’s vain is to continue to leave all this power with the majority of the bodies in Atlanta who couldn’t care less, and in fact, actually think we’re harming the environment,” Stephens told the crowd.
Currently, saltwater fishing is managed by the Georgia General Assembly, the Board of Natural Resources and the Commissioner of Natural Resources. Certain species of saltwater fish, like red drum, are managed by all three divisions while other species, like spotted sea trout, are solely managed by the General Assembly.
Haymans said this often times makes it difficult to manage saltwater fish within a timely manner in the event of an environmental emergency. Because some fish are managed solely by the General Assembly, action for those species can only be taken during the legislative session from January to March each year, he said.
Instead, these changes would allow the Commissioner of Natural Resources to take short-term actions to prohibit the harvest of managed saltwater fish species, but for a period not to exceed six months within one calendar year. Any longer changes would require action from the Board of Natural Resources, Haymans said.
He said this would also allow the DNR to react to environmental conditions and would help with interstate management. Before any major decisions would be made, the DNR would seek input from the public, he added. The General Assembly would retain authority over licensing and associated fees and penalties.
The biggest change to the current bill would mean saltwater fish would be managed in the same way freshwater fish are currently managed, Haymans said.
Haymans said the only regulation change that has been proposed would eliminate whiting as a managed saltwater fish species.
“There is currently not a maximum number of fish that you can keep,” Haymans said. “(State) Rep. Tommy Smith (R-Nicholls) several years ago removed the creel limit from whiting and it has not seemed to have made an effect (on population).”
Following the presentation, Haymans said he expected negative reactions from local fisherman, but was also surprised when a vocal opponent asked for a hand vote.
“Overall I saw as much or more support than there was opposed to it,” he said.
Stephens said Friday he left budget talks in Atlanta to attend the fisheries meeting because he felt it was very important to folks on the coast. Stephens said although he doesn’t have a “solid opinion” on the matter just yet, he believes this could be an important change.
He noted that although a lot of local fishermen were concerned with the authority being turned over to the DNR, it didn’t mean it was permanent.
“Even though we’d be giving (the DNR) the authority, which would be commensurate with the responsibility they have, we (the General Assembly) can yank it back in a New York minute,” Stephens.