Noodlers continue fight to legalize hand fishing
From Missouri Digital News:
MDN Menu

MDN Home

Journalist's Creed


MDN Help

MDN.ORG: Missouri Digital News
MDN Menu

MDN Home

Journalist's Creed


MDN Help

MDN.ORG Mo. Digital News Missouri Digital News MDN.ORG: Mo. Digital News MDN.ORG: Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help  

Noodlers continue fight to legalize hand fishing

Date: May 4, 2011
By: Danielle McCarthy
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB150, HB325

With few days left in Missouri's legislative session it's unlikely a bill that would legalize hand fishing will pass, but many noodlers are still making sure their voices are heard.
RunTime:  4:03
OutCue:  SOC

Wrap: Whether you call it noodling, grabblin' or hand fishing, Gary Webb has been doing it since the 1950s.

Actuality:  WEBB5.WAV
Run Time:  00:03
Description: Laughs ... I've been awful close to getting caught a lot of times.

That's because the Department of Conservation has made Webb's pastime illegal in the state of Missouri.

Webb is a proud member of Noodlers Anonymous. 

Actuality:  WEBB13.WAV
Run Time:  00:05
Description: How long have I been noodling? I caught my first carp when I was about eight or nine years old.
Noodlers Anonymous is a group that works for the legalization of hand fishing.

And now Webb's passing the tradition down to future generations.

Actuality:  WEBB9.WAV
Run Time:  00:05
Description: Biggest I ever caught was 64 pounds, my daughter caught a 72 and a half!

While the Webb family tradition is illegal here in Missouri, it's accepted in six bordering states.

Webb has been working since 2000 to legalize noodling.

So why is the Department of Conservation against the legalization of hand fishing?

The Department's Fisheries Division Chief Chris Vitello says it's all about catfish management.

Actuality:  VITELLO1.WAV
Run Time:  00:13
Description: One of the things that we are concerned about is that the additional pressure on catfish populations at a time when they are most vulnerable when they are nesting could damage populations.

Noodlers are asking to be allowed to catch five fish by hand each summer.

Webb says this wouldn't harm the catfish population and that he has a study from Oklahoma State University to back him up.

Oklahoma is one of the seventeen states in the U.S. where noodling is legal.

Gene Gilliland of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation says he disagrees with Vitello's stance.

Actuality:  GENEGIL.WAV
Run Time:  00:11
Description: A lot of people seem to think it's not appropriate to take a fish off their nest when they're actually guarding the eggs. Biologically, we have not seen it to be a problem.

He says less than one percent of the fish caught in Oklahoma are caught by hand fishing.

Noodling has been illegal in Missouri since 1919, with the exception of a trial legal season back in 2005 the Department of Conservation cut short.

The department says it was cut short because the catfish would have been taken away from their nests.

Vitello says that prevents the fish from fanning oxygen to the eggs and causing them not to hatch.

Vitello says their studies showed that would be detrimental to the catfish population.

Actuality:  VITELLO2.WAV
Run Time:  00:14
Description: Like electrofishing, you know telephones - the old illegal telephones that shocked the fish - dynamite, spear fishing for game fishing. We don't allow any of those and we kind of put handfishing in that same categary.

But Vitello also said the department has never done a study indicating a direct correlation between noodling and a decline in the catfish population.

Hand fishing is also illegal in Texas.

Although Chief of Texas Parks and Wild Fisheries Management and Research Dave Terre says it might not stay that way.

Actuality:  TERRE3.WAV
Run Time:  00:09
Description: I don't want to give the impression that we are against it, because I think it could be possible in some localities in our state.

Republican Senator Brian Munzlinger is sponsoring the Senate bill that would legalize noodling.

Year after year a similar bill dies in the state House or Senate, and this year was no exception.

Munzlinger says he believes the the Department of Conservation is not being honest in their reasons for keeping the practice off limits.

Actuality:  MUNZ3.WAV
Run Time:  00:05
Description: I've got a number of reasons why I think they're not for it. Number one, it's not their idea.

Noodlers don't need any equipment or a license to hand fish.

Munzlinger says the money that is lost when those items aren't purchased could be another reason for keeping it illegal.

He also says the Department of Conservation's trial legal season six years ago showed the legalization of hand fishing would not hurt the fish population.
Actuality:  MUNZ1.WAV
Run Time:  00:11
Description: After the first year, they cut it off, which didn't make any sense because there were only minimal numbers of catfish that were caught and tagged, like 3.

But even if noodling is never legalized in Missouri nothing can stop Webb from doing what he loves to do.

Actuality:  WEBB4.WAV
Run Time:  00:08
Description: I wear my noodling stuff, my noodling hat everywhere I go, it don't matter. And I walk straight at conservation, I don't run from 'em.

 From the state Capitol, I'm Danielle McCarthy.