How Alabama Resisted the Net Bans that Swept the Gulf States in the 1990’s only to Follow Suit in the New Century
Robert Fritchey

Alabama’s commercial fishermen were netting wild fish for consumers back in the 1800s. By the 1990s, their annual harvest of this first-rate source of protein was approaching a sustainable five million pounds.

Then it began.

The world’s fisheries were in crisis, on the verge of extinction thanks to commercial fishing, trumpeted Pew-funded environmentalists as they campaigned to tweak federal fishery law in the U.S. Congress.

Coincidentally, sportfishing interests, in a coordinated assault, attacked seafood producers from Washington to New Jersey and across the Gulf of Mexico where, like a domino, Florida went down first. 

The battle over nets in the Sunshine State was called the Mother of All Fish Fights, and rightly so: the peninsula’s prodigious fisheries had given rise to a deeply embedded commercial fishing culture that took a shock-and-awe media campaign and a passel of trusting voters to dislodge.

After the 1994 election, elite anglers played up the threat of an invasion by Florida’s out-of-work fishermen into the waters of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Their solution? Ban the nets in those states too! 

Florida’s working fishermen had been as well organized as any on the Gulf, so the comparatively small band of netters in neighboring Alabama naturally assumed that they’d also be steamrolled.

As bleak as it first appeared, the cream rose to the top in the Yellowhammer State—virtually every institution, including its natural resource management agency, media, legislators, even its governor, did their parts to help preserve the public’s sustainable fishery. And in so doing, they made this characteristically hidebound state appear downright progressive.

At least, for a while.

With 362 pages, more than 40 black & white photos and drawings, and three lively oral histories of seafood industry participants, A Different Breed of Cat (ISBN 978-0-9963882-8-3) retails for $17.95 (paper version) from Amazon.com and better bookstores. A Different Breed of Cat is also available as an e-book—with most photographs in color—for $9.99 from Amazon Kindle, Apple iTunes, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press.