According to long-time residents, an Eastern Shore tradition dating back to the Civil War is no longer what it used to be because of the overzealous enforcement of Alabama law.

But lawmakers from Baldwin County are looking into ways to salvage the beloved jubilee and customs surrounding it.

A jubilee occurs when bottom-dwelling sea life, such as flounder and crabs, comes to the surface due to a lack of oxygen in the water. It occurs only in the Gulf of Mexico and Asia and only happens a few times a year.

When there is a jubilee, word gets around quickly, and people swarm to the water for an easy catch. Many times, people come home with coolers full of fish and crabs.

“People get real excited and have for years and years and years,” said State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine). “They used to have a telephone tree that you would call if you saw the jubilee and everybody would run down to the bay to go scoop up what they could get.”

In the late 1800s, people rang large jubilee bells to alert towns surrounding the bay to the jubilee. Now, social media is the catalyst for spreading the word.

But this year, an Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) game warden was among those who heard about the jubilee on the Eastern Shore on June 12. The response led to several citations. Many people were unaware they had to have a saltwater fishing license to fish during a jubilee, especially since most fish are caught by hand or gig and not with a fishing pole.

Vincent Wasp, 66, of Point Clear, was among those unaware of the rules and regulations.

An incident report states Wasp was over the bag limit and had undersized fish. When the game warden approached him, the report states Wasp “caused alarm” and used obscene language at the officer in the middle of a crowd. The people had been gathering in a public access area off Zundel Road.

During a struggle, the game warden pepper-sprayed Wasp. He was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, attempting to elude and resisting arrest. He was also given two citations.

“You know, saltwater fishing laws still apply and it seems like somebody kind of went down there and maybe got a little carried away and then probably responded incorrectly to an officer,” Elliott said of the incident.

Elliott said if Wasp would’ve reacted appropriately, he would’ve only been issued a ticket. However, he said it does bring to light a bigger issue of protecting tradition in Coastal Alabama.

“There is a conversation about bag limits, you know, should they apply during a jubilee or shouldn’t they?” Elliott said. “Should a saltwater fishing license be required during a jubilee? And I think those are questions for the legislature to decide the answers to.”

State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) told 1819 News he is working on legislation to remove the saltwater fishing license requirement. Simpson said he has to work on the language to draft the legislation because the bill will have to explain what a jubilee is. He is working with the ADCNR to determine exactly what the bill should include.

“I just think that since jubilees only occur in two areas in the entire world and if somebody finds out that a jubilee is going on, they should be able to go,” Simpson said. “This isn't something where they can plan for a trip or plan for a fishing charter or anything like that. You just have to be in the right place at the right time and I don't think that you should have to have a fishing license to go in ankle-deep water to grab a fish that you pick up with your hands.”

Simpson said he does not support taking away bag limits and size restrictions. While many think the fish are coming to the surface to die, Simpson said they typically survive the jubilee and return to the depths when oxygen returns.

“We want to make sure to protect our population and protect the fish that are there,” he added. “The bag limit and the size limits are there for a reason.”

The ADCNR has been attempting to manage a declining flounder population along the Gulf Coast since 2008.

As for Wasp, he is scheduled for a bench trial on July 17 with Baldwin County Judge Michelle Thomason presiding.

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