Red Drum Bill is a Keeper

Game Fish Status Bill passes Georgia Legislature

Posted on April 08, 2013

The Georgia Senate voted to pass House Bill 36 which was the final legislative step in the process to elevate Georgia’s State Saltwater Fish to official game fish status. The bill, which specifies that red drum cannot be sold and can be legally taken only by pole and line, now moves on to Gov. Deal’s desk for his signature.

“This is a terrific development for Georgia, for recreational anglers and most especially for red drum,” said Jeff Young, Chair of CCA Georgia’s Government Relations Committee. “It was truly a cooperative, inclusive effort by the recreational community. It wouldn’t have ever been possible without local angling icons like Mike Duckworth Scott Owens, Scott Wagner, Jack McGowan, Greg Hildreth and many other guides and charter captains, who started working on this back in 2009 with the website they developed, called georgiaredfish.org. We’re proud to have worked with such a great collection of folks to get this done.”

CCA Georgia’s Board of Directors made the decision to go for game fish status in July 2012 and early meetings with elected officials, including Rep. Jon Burns, members of the Georgia Legislature’s Coastal Caucus and Rep. Ben Watson of Savannah, indicated that the idea had a great deal of potential.

“We owe a thanks to Rep. Ben Watson, who authored the bill, and Reps. Burns, Stevens, Dutton and Spencer who ultimately ushered the bill to a 168-0 vote in the House,” said Brooks Schoen, past chairman of the CCA Georgia Government Relations Committee. “We also owe a special thanks to Sen. Buddy Carter who sponsored the bill in the Senate, which approved the bill 38-12. We were fortunate to get off to a great start with wide initial support not just from the angling community, which was crucial, but also from a number of key legislators.”

With Gov. Deal’s signature, red drum becomes the state’s first saltwater fish of recreational importance classified as game fish, and puts Georgia on equal footing with both Florida and South Carolina which have protected red drum as a game fish for many years. Anglers in Georgia will still be able to target, catch and keep red drum for their own use in line with state regulations, seasons and limits.

“We knew when we started this process back in the fall that we were on to something meaningful,” said William Lattimore, president of the Savannah CCA Chapter. “We sponsored a premier showing of a documentary movie, Redfish Can’t Jump at the Muse Theater. At the conclusion of the movie, during a question and answer session, the audience of over 100 was astounded that Georgia’s state saltwater fish was not protected. That just motivated us even more to encourage our legislators for game fish status for the red drum.”

The legislative process was not without its hurdles. A seafood company in Savannah called for a commercial allocation of red drum, temporarily throwing some confusion into a committee hearing, but an outpouring of protest from recreational anglers overwhelmed that request. With regular alerts from georgiaredfish.org and CCA Georgia, anglers from across the state provided a steady drumbeat of encouragement to legislators throughout the entire process and helped unsure the bill moved through to the Governor unaltered.

“One of the Senators asked us who was responsible for the 350-plus e-mails he received in a single night on this issue,” recalled Young. “He told us after the meeting that he had never received so many e-mails that were not form letters on any one subject. There are so many people who played key roles in this victory and deserve recognition. We all had to work together and the result is a big win for conservation that our kids and grandkids will enjoy.”

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