The Changing Tides
At one time, Burbank Trawl Company 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.
At its height, the shrimping industry they supported saw as many as 100 shrimp boats lining the docks of Fernandina Beach.
With the introduction of farm-raised products came the sad decline of the shrimping industry in Fernandina. Today, there are only a handful of shrimpers that call Fernandina home.
Billy Burbank saw the change coming and, with it, the need to find a place for Burbank nets in a changing world. In 1978, Billy recognized the market for sporting nets and expanded the company’s products to include making sporting nets for soccer, football, baseball, and softball.
Today, you’ll find Burbank sport nets used in most of the professional sports leagues, including nets you’ll see at the Jacksonville Jaguars and Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp games.
Burbank nets have been used around the world and, yet, the only advertising the family ever needed was their website and word of mouth. It is truly a tribute to the craftsmanship and passion of the Burbank family, that a such a small operation in a small riverfront town has impacted an industry, worldwide.
From the Boat
To the Baseball Field
Burbank Nets Defined An Industry
Billy Burbank, III, on his Pop’s Jeep as a baby.
Billy will tell you net making is hard work physically. But he’ll also tell you he’s enjoyed his life.
He remembers his childhood fondly as he shares stories of his high school days and the family members who shaped his love for the river and the simpler things in life.
He remembers the early 60’s when he drove his grandfather’s WWII jeep from the north end of Amelia Island to the south end in the early morning hours as the sun came up. Billy says you were lucky if you saw three people.
He talks about his grandmother who walked the beach everyday and vowed to never have rubber between her toes and the sand. He smiles as he remembers his high school graduation celebration being a group of friends on the beach building huts out of saw palmettos and drinking beer as they watched the ocean waves roll in.
It’s not often you meet someone who can remember such vivid details of childhood. Like the cottage that Billy first called home that still stands today just south of Elizabeth Point Lodge. Or the really short, red shorts Billy wore as a young boy with no shirt, no shoes and no socks. That and days and days spent on the beach. And the fact that he ate his weight in watermelon.
Billy says his life has been one of 2 miles x 13 miles – Amelia Island. And yet, the nets he and his family have created for four generations have been used around the world.
One can’t help but notice that the stories Billy likes to share the most are those connected to the people whose lives his nets have impacted.
He would tell you that his mom, Jane Lance Burbank, inspired him to learn how to sew at nine years old.
He would tell you his Uncle Frank was his teacher and a man among men. Billy remembers the day he knew he had taken over as the fastest net maker in the family when his Uncle called him “Hefe” and said, “You are the best I’ve ever seen.”
You can tell the people Billy met in his earlier days really made an impression upon him as well.
He talks fondly of his football coach, Coach Wayne Benner, who Billy says didn’t just teach him football. As Billy puts it, “He taught me how to be a man, to show respect for others, and to always give my best at everything in life.”
He also smiles as he recalls his 5th grade teacher, Martha Mitchell, who Billy says, “Thank God, she loved me. She taught me how to survive in school when you really didn’t want to read a book.”
So what is left for a world re-known net maker?
The Burbank family’s net making venture has lasted for over 103 years, with the 4th generation William Hunter Burbank, IV, now handling production for Burbank Sport Nets, the offshoot of the original Burbank Trawl Company.