Florida's long coastline and numerous springs, lakes and rivers support fishing both as entertainment and as a thriving commercial enterprise. State officials have been involved in regulating the fishing industry, especially the use of nets, since the 19th century.
In 1889, the Legislature authorized the governor to appoint commissioners of fisheries. These officials would select sites for protected fisheries and enforce laws regarding the use of nets and other equipment.
By 1955, Florida was a leader in the commercial production of fishery products in the United States. In order to consistently regulate the wide variety of fishing gear used, the State Board of Conservation published Commercial Fishing Gear and Fishing Methods in Florida as part of a series of technical and educational pamphlets.
In 1980, folklorist Peggy Bulger interviewed Fernandina net maker Billy Burbank III. The interview begins with Burbank describing how his grandfather began the family business, Burbank Trawl Makers Inc., in 1915. Burbank then discusses the history and practices of the net making trade. At the time of the interview, Burbank Trawl Makers was the largest producer of fishing nets in the United States. Stories about the family business tell of nets made for President Richard Nixon and a fishing boat that accidentally caught a submarine in its trawl nets.
This unit uses photographs, state documents and interviews to explore the history of net making and net fishing in Florida.