Sunday, January 24, 2010

Stopnetters vs. Gillnetters

I came across a family feud that ended up almost costing the life of my great grandfather's brother, Joseph Manley Fulford.

He was a fisherman in Carteret County NC and came to Cortez, FL in the early part of the 20th century, about 20 years after his siblings first moved there. Joe was a fisherman and lived in Cortez with his wife, Sallie Chapman Chadwick Fulford.

On Sunday, January 5, 1930 while he was asleep, his house was dynamited. This was done due to a feud between stopnetters and gillnetters. Joe was a gillnetter and there had been several incidents of nets being torn up, nets being burned with acid, cut up or set afire.

Stopnetting was controversial because it caught all the fish in the area and the fishermen who used gillnets didn't want the others to use stopnets. Three men (William Pearce, Albert Mora and Richard Posey) were arrested for trying to kill Joe but were not convicted.
Joseph Fulford was 64 years old when this happened and he moved back to North Carolina soon after. Everyone in Cortez is related in some way so the culprits, whoever they were, are probably related to Joe.

The North Carolina Fisheries Commission says a stop net is defined as a stationary net (not intended to gill fish) whose purpose is to impede the progress of schooling fish so that they can be harvested with a seine.

It is interesting that disputes between stopnet and gillnet fishermen is still going on today. I found this in a 2006 NC fisheries publication: "Gill netters and stop netters have historically been at odds over the allocation of the schools as they come down the beach. The mobile gill netters have set in front of and even within the stop nets, and the beach seiners are accused of harvesting an inordinate amount of the resource. In the mid-1980s, the use of spotter aircraft to direct the beach seiners when to strike the striped mullet schools was deemed unfair by gill netters and recreational fishermen alike. The vehicular traffic on the beach associated with stop nets (pickup trucks and tractors) is a source of controversy with beachfront residents, sea turtle activists and recreational fishermen."

The 1995 net ban in Florida was caused in part by negative publicity about stopnets and large seine fishing. But it is a way of fishing that has existed for hundreds of years. A 1880 publication by R. Edward Earll about fishing off the coast of Carteret County NC had this account.

The majority of the mullet fishermen were farmers from the mainland. "When the fishing season arrived," he said, "they leave their homes and proceed in gangs of four to thirty men to the seashore under the leadership of a "captain," who controls their movements... . On reaching the shore they at once build rude huts or cabins, in which they eat and sleep until the close of the season.

David Stick's "The Outer Banks of North Carolina" says "The men would post a lookout for mullet on the top of a large sand hill or a constructed lookout tower. When the men saw a school of fish, they would leave the post, walk down the beach and indicate the movements of the fish to other crew members with arm signals. Finally, at the proper signal from the lookout, the fishermen would launch their boat through the surf, and 'shoot' their seine in front of the approaching school of fish. After pulling in the schools of mullet, the men would take their catch by boat to fish houses.

No comments: