The Gulf Wars Series is a historical record of the state-by-state fish fights that erupted across the Gulf of Mexico in the mid-1990s.
Sport-fishing-industry efforts to ban nets on the Gulf were naturally of interest to me because, at the time, I was earning my livelihood in Louisiana by netting fish for the market. My interest widened when an editor at National Fisherman magazine assigned me to call every coastal fishery agency in the country and ask, “Are you seeing any efforts to ban commercial netting in your state?”
It turned out that sportsmen weren’t just trying to hog the resource in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana—they were also making a push in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina!
Without wishing to demean anyone’s fishery, livelihood or way of life, I didn’t feel that any of these fights were of a scale to warrant an entire book, at least by me. For one thing, in 2020, I hadn’t even completed Gulf Wars yet—there was still Mississippi and the big kahuna, Florida, to go. And, except for the fight over Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie gill-net fishery, which did result in its demise, commercial fishermen and their supporters in all the other states mostly turned back the recreational anglers in the 1990s.
But each of these conflicts was unique, with its own lesson to be learned. And since I’m not likely to be putting detailed accounts down on paper anytime soon, if ever, I’m making these abbreviated versions available now, in the following order: Alaska, Washington and Oregon, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina.
Irrespective of locale, recreational interests sought the blatant re-allocation of fishery resources to their own sector with initiatives that were typically packaged as “conservation” measures, and exquisitely tailored to each state’s fishery and political reality: Where anglers grossly outmatched the working fishermen, the sportsmen went for wholesale net bans while in states where the commercial fishing industry was more formidable, the recreationals set their sights considerably lower.
So it was in Alaska, which was the stronghold of the nation’s commercial fishing industry.