Written by Jen Finn
MONTGOMERY — An effort to lift a decades-old, but only recently enforced, ban on gill net fishing on the Tennessee River system failed this year, but the debate between commercial and sport fishermen hasn't died.
"We don't bother anyone," said Judy Bivens, of Bivens Fish Market in Athens. "There aren't that many commercial fishermen left."
Until last year, her husband used gill nets to catch buffalo fish and catfish in Wheeler Lake.
In December, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said it would begin enforcing the ban on gill and trammel nets in the Tennessee River basin. The state said the gill net ban wasn't enforced for years based on a legal interpretation that it was unconstitutional. But a state attorney general's opinion late last year said the law could be enforced.
The nets can be used to catch large amounts of fish by blocking a section of a stream or waterway.
The punishment is a fine up to $500 and/or up to six months in jail.
"We've lost a lot of customers," Bivens said.
She lobbied earlier this year for legislation that would have lifted the ban. Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, sponsored it and several north Alabama lawmakers lent their support. It passed the House, but died without a vote in the Senate.
"When you think of commercial fishing, you think of the Gulf Coast, but we've got a lot of people here that do it," Greer said earlier this year.
Proponents of the ban said the nets trap and kill too many bass and other valuable fish.
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