Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Shrimpers Can Shrimp near Shore, Senate Says; A Committee Knocks Down a Measure That Would've Forced Them to Stay Farther out at Sea

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Shrimpers Can Shrimp near Shore, Senate Says; A Committee Knocks Down a Measure That Would've Forced Them to Stay Farther out at Sea

Article excerpt

Byline: VICKY ECKENRODE

ATLANTA - Georgia shrimpers, already dwindling in number because of higher fuel prices and competition from importers, dodged another potential threat Thursday when a Senate panel killed a bill to push the trawling boats farther from shore.

Several shrimp-boat owners and their family members spoke to the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee, warning that the proposal would be the death knell for the struggling industry.

Senate Bill 292 would have prohibited commercial trawlers from dragging their nets within a mile of the coast. Supporters of the measure, which included sport fishermen, said it would help reduce the amount of fish accidentally caught in the shrimp nets and protect the sea floor from disruptive dragging.

Georgia Natural Resources Commissioner Noel Holcomb told the committee he has not pushed for the offshore limit.

The lack of support from the state agency made it easier for committee members to table the bill.

But because the deadline is near for legislation to pass out of a committee this session, the measure is not expected to come back up again in time to be reconsidered.

"I wasn't comfortable with the proposal," said Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, who is on the committee. "I believe this would virtually end the commercial shrimping industry."

The handful of shrimpers attending said the same thing to the panel while pleading with lawmakers to leave the rules alone.

Current law allows Georgia shrimpers to drag their nets near the shoreline during the season, though sounds are typically off limits and there is a 1,000-foot buffer off some beaches, such as Tybee Island, St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island.

Toombs County resident Fred Dennis, who shrimps for weeks at a time near Brunswick, said he spends about 60 percent of each season within a mile of the coast.

The number of licensed commercial trawlers in Georgia has dropped from nearly 1,500 in 1979 to 307 last year.

Paige Morrison, whose husband is a shrimper, pointed out that the Savannah couple is planning to pay $3 a gallon for boat fuel once the season starts in May, compared with 89 cents a gallon only five years ago. …

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