BILOXI -- Most of Tuesday's Commission on Marine Resources meeting consisted of a back-and-forth discussion of degradable net regulations.
During his presentation to the board, the Office of Marine Fisheries' Matt Hill said cotton/linen is the only acceptable material. Some fishermen, such as Richard Gable, want to see rules relaxed to include nylon so he can fix his net and use it legally.
"This is the fourth time I have been over here and I've been waiting because I want to do it legal," he said. "I don't want to go out there and be called an outlaw and a thief again. I don't want to be running and looking over my shoulder because I'm trying to do it the right way -- or the way that y'all tell me to do it."
Representatives from the Sierra Club and Coastal Conservation Association spoke out against altering the limitations of degradable nets.
"It has been a very effective provision as far as we're concerned," CCA Executive Director Johnny Marquez said. "It reduced the number of nets that were out there and the fisheries have responded very well to that.
"We don't believe the nets are necessary, as was evidenced by some of the data given here today."
Marquez is concerned that changes might open the door for other net fishermen.
"We don't want to see something that throws open the regulations to encourage the participation in this fishery again," he said.
After initially making a motion to alter some of the restrictions -- but failing to include any mention of materials -- Commissioner Richard Gollott opted to request the staff bring a recommendation on how to modify the gill net ordinance to next month's CMR meeting.
Gollott said instead of opening up the rules to everyone, he would prefer to grandfather in the small group of gill netters.
"We have a group of four people trying to make a living and they have had these unfair regulations put on them for 20 years," Gollott said after the meeting. "We're trying to fix it to where we don't get a big influx of gill netters because we don't need that, but by giving them a different material it will help them. It's just trying to help people who have been in it all their lives try to make a living."
Taylor to end CMR service
Jimmy Taylor, in his eighth year on the board, announced at the end of Tuesday morning's marathon meeting "it's just time" to step away. He said he won't seek a reappointment from Gov. Phil Bryant to head the commission.
Taylor was appointed by former Gov. Haley Barbour in 2006 and was reappointed four years later by Bryant. His term will end June 30.
"To find the right person, you need to give enough notice and all. I have served eight years but it's time to move on," he said.
Taylor has kicked around the idea of resigning from his position for some time, but felt the timing wasn't right until recently.
"I had really not wanted to be appointed again. When the stuff with Dr. (Bill) Walker came down, I started to resign except for it would look like you did something (wrong)," he said.
Asked if it was just easier to wash his hands of the issues with the Department of Marine Resources, Taylor said that's not exactly how he would look at it.
"If I had done that I would have resigned when all the stuff with Dr. Walker came out," he said. "I have always been taught that when something is right you fight for it and when something is wrong -- if you make a mistake -- you admit it and go on and take your punishment. Walking away as the Sun Herald editorial board wanted us to do when we have no culpability in it would have sent out the wrong message. I started to. I really did.
"It's so stressful at the time because we didn't know anything that happened. Nothing. Until (the Sun Herald's) article came out."
The DMR's ongoing legal issues have taken a toll on Taylor's health.
He said his blood pressure spiked from about 120 to almost 190 "and didn't go down until after Dr. Walker left," he said. "Just the stress from the whole thing."
During his announcement to the near-capacity crowd at the Bolton State Building's auditorium, Taylor said he has learned a lot during his time as chairman.
"As a recreational fisherman my whole life I have had to step in some of the commercial fisherman's shoes," he said. "I learned a lot about our ecosystem after the BP spill, trying to work and learn through that."
Marine Patrol Interim Chief Rusty Pittman gave a presentation on the effects of airboats on marshlands, showing pictures of airboat tracks in a region in 2010 and again in 2012.
"The consensus that you hear is that airboat tracks go away," he said, "Well, as you can tell by these pictures, most of them stay."
Pittman later added: "If you run over the grass in the water it's going to pop back up. As you can see with the pictures we have, if you're running across that dry marsh the cane breaks and lays down."
Commissioner Ernie Zimmerman said: "It's evident that this is a problem. I feel we need to educate the public that it's unacceptable and then we need to enforce the law."
n Joe Jewell was named director of the Department of Marine Fisheries. Jewell has been with the DMR for 17 years.
"I feel very fortunate to have Joe on the staff and we look forward to working with him as he leads that office," Miller said.
n Citing the success of two Fall meetings in Jackson County and Hancock County, Miller asked the board to move March's CMR meeting to Gautier's city hall complex. The commission voted unanimously to move next month's meeting location.