Some of my fondest memories of growing up in coastal Georgia are of going fishing with my dad.
While I enjoyed freshwater fishing, my favorite was saltwater. I remember studying the tide charts in the paper and hoping that the right tide would coincide with his days off.
I grew up in west Chatham County and therefore it was closer for us to go fishing in South Carolina near Hilton Head Island. I remember I always had to add one hour to the tide charts in the Savannah paper for the correct South Carolina tides.
Although we fished year-round, the fall of the year was the best time for us.
When we would leave our home in Port Wentworth, my dad would always tell me to look and see which way the smoke in the neighboring paper mill’s smokestack was blowing. If the northeast wind was blowing, we knew we were probably not going to do as well since the tide would not be able to get fully out of the marsh.
We would mainly catch trout and spot-tailed bass. It was only years later that I learned that a spot-tailed bass was actually called a red drum or redfish.
It really didn’t matter what they were called; all I knew was that they really put up a fight and they were loads of fun to catch.
It’s because of these childhood memories that I chose to sponsor HB 36 in the Senate this year.
HB 36, which was sponsored in the House by Rep. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) and passed both chambers overwhelmingly, provides game fish status for red drum.
Red drum was designated as a game fish in federal waters by President George W. Bush.
In South Carolina and Florida, red drum is classified as a game fish.
Designation as a game fish means the species cannot be sold and can only be legally taken by means of pole and line.
As the population of the red drum begins to dwindle, it is important that we put safeguards in place to ensure this species’ viability in order for future generations to enjoy and experience.
Currently, there are 31 species of freshwater fish of recreational importance that are classified as game fish. If signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal as expected, red drum will become the first saltwater fish in Georgia to be designated as a game fish. The red drum is already designated as the state saltwater fish of Georgia.
If not classified as game fish, species may be taken by bow and arrow, cast nets, seines and other fishing gear. For species such as the red drum, where the harvest is regulated by a 14-23 inch slot length and a daily possession limit of five fish, this can be a big problem.
Without HB 36, when the commercial sale of red drum was permitted, it is believed a “black market,” in which red drum were illegally captured and sold to the public on a wide scale, existed. In fact, over the past five years, annual reported sales of red drum have been less than 500 pounds.
A proposed amendment to HB 36 that would allow 10 percent of the total pounds of red drum caught annually to be sold by licensed seafood dealers was not considered, as it was felt that farm-raised red drum from Texas and wild-caught red drum from North Carolina that can be legally sold in Georgia would satisfy consumer demand.
Coastal fishing contributes nearly $500 million per year to our coastal communities. More than 150 professional fishing guides depend on a growing and productive fishery to sustain their business.
Protecting the red drum by designating this species a game fish, as HB 36 does, will help ensure the economic viability of our coast.
More importantly, HB 36 will help to protect the spot-tailed bass. It will help a boy learn how to read a tide chart, how to tell which way the wind is blowing by looking at a smokestack and create memories that will last a lifetime.