Day two of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association assault on the watermen took place Thursday before the House EnvironmentalMatters committee.
Committee Chairman Ronald A. Guns, D-Elkton, did not display much of the hospitality for which the shore is noted.
The reason for the get-together was the first reading of House Bill 1189. HB 1189 proposes the elimination of all gill nets from the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland's portion of the Atlantic Ocean by Aug. 1,1994. The bill also provides a buy-out of commercial fishermen by creating a striped bass or rockfish stamp.
The bill was introduced by its sponsors, Delegates Tony E. Fulton and John D. Jefferies, both Democrats from Baltimore City and members of the Environmental Matters committee.
Before they could call on their MSSA representatives to testify, Guns cheated: He asked the two bill sponsors if they knewthe mesh size for commercial fishing in 1990. The two delegates werestunned, started to stammer, then began digging through their papersuntil the chairman let them off the hook.
At the Senate Rockfish/Gamefish hearing, the MSSA had a fair to good representation in the audience. At Thursday's hearing, the organization barely had enough totestify and were easily outnumbered 10 to one.
MSSA president Fred Meers testified that the bill does not prohibit commercial fishing by hook and line, fyke net or pound net. The history of a viable gill net fishery in the Chesapeake Bay is drawing to a close, he said. The MSSA-backed bill offers the gill-netter a phase-out, an escape clause.
Either that, or they must change their methods of catching fish.
But Guns said the phase-out wasn't much of a deal for the commercial netter, and he asked if any of the MSSA representatives had ever fished a pound net. None had.
Bill Goldsboro, chairman of the Striped Bass Advisory Board and employee of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, testified in favor of passive catch methods, such as the fyke and pound nets.
In answer to a committee member's question, Goldsboro testified that commercial fishermen would be easier to regulate than recreational fishermen.
When it came time for the opponents to testify, Paul Massicot, administrator of the Tidewater Administration,refuted each of the points the MSSA had raised.
Pete Jensen, director of Fisheries for the Tidewater Administration, said the bill is seriously flawed and took strong exception to most of the points raised by MSSA.
Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said he felt betrayed. Some of these same MSSA representatives were deeply involved with the Striped Bass White Paper committee, he pointed out, and they were giving false testimony.
Simns, also a member of the White Paper committee, noted that everyone had to compromise to come up with Maryland's plan to open the striped bass fishery.
Simns said that commercial fishermen were ultra-conservative in setting up their fishery -- so conservative that they didn't catchtheir quota. Their catch meant approximately $1,500 to each of them,money that helped get them through the winter.
By then, the hour had grown late, and most of the committee members had departed. Unfortunately, they missed the most sparkling testimony of the day. Darcy Gibby of Gibby Seafood in Timonium blasted the MSSA and its self-serving mission.
How dare these 7,000 MSSA members tell 4.8 million Maryland residents they cannot eat rockfish, she said. This one-tenth of 1 percent of the population is trying to put commercial fishermen, fish cutters, wholesalers, truck drivers, chefs, and waiters out of business, and she wasn't going to stand for it!
You had to be thereto appreciate it, but I'm with her.
I'd say the MSSA was beat up pretty badly on HB 1189. I do not expect the bill to get out of committee.
Bob Spore is a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena. His Outdoors column appears every Friday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.