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Gill net bill meshed for area anglers

Francis "Fran" Pordum recalled the successful effort 25 years ago to eliminate commercial gill netting in New York State waters of Lake Erie at the January meeting of the Southtowns Walleye Association held Thursday in the organization's recently-purchased clubhouse.

Pordum was a key figure in achieving one of SWA's initial goals -- doing away with commercial gill netting.

For decades, Herb Schultz had run a bait and tackle business (Tackle Shack) on the shores of Lake Erie. Schultz, Dick Smith, and other avid anglers and eventual founders of SWA saw the potential damage gill nets posed for sport fishing in Buffalo area waters.

"At first I just wanted to stop commercials from netting during the spawning season, but that would be too hard to manage," Schultz said before the Thursday night SWA meeting.

Early legislative efforts got some attention, but bills could not be passed through Albany chambers to Gov. Mario Cuomo's desk for signing.

Ed Soda, first elected SWA president, served as an aide to then Assemblyman Pordum; much of his district bordered Lake Erie.

"Part of the problem was to satisfy the sport fishermen and the commercial fishermen as well," Pordum, recently retired Town of Evans Supervisor said last summer while recalling the 25th year of the final passage Pordum sponsored in the State Assembly.

Fellow assembly members marveled at Pordum's success not only with passage of the gill-net ban, but also the way in which compensations were made. The bill imposed a three-year fee on anglers fishing Lake Erie. Money from those fees was then given to licensed commercial fishermen to compensate for their harvest losses.

"By the end of the first year collected fees were enough to pay off the commercials and discontinue the extra-fee addition to fishing licenses. That was one of the few instances that an imposed fee was not only dropped rather than extended, it was suspended before its full term," Pordum beamed.

Now, 26 years later, Lake Erie anglers have an abundance of both walleye and yellow perch -- prime food as well as sport fish -- along with great bass and other panfish prospects for fisher folk working waters around the eastern basin of Erie.

Experts vary as to the spring perch bite, but Pordum's gill-net bill and the concerted efforts of SWA members a quarter century ago ensured good numbers and sizes of perch and other commercially-sold fish will be out there somewhere for area anglers.