B.A.S.S., the world’s largest fishing organization, has endorsed proposed legislation that would reopen navigable waters in Louisiana to boaters and anglers.
The bill, HB 391, introduced on March 1 by State Rep. Kevin Pearson (R.) of Slidell, would restrict the ability of private landowners to prohibit boater access to navigable waters flowing over or through their lands. It is currently being considered by the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure.
“For 50 years, B.A.S.S. has fought for anglers’ rights to access public waters,” said B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland. “Louisiana is one of the most important battlegrounds in the nation, especially along the Gulf Coast, where canals, ponds and bays that have been fished for many years are now being gated by those who own the land around them.”
Numerous Bassmaster tournaments have been held in coastal fisheries of Louisiana, including four Bassmaster Classic world championships in the Louisiana Delta out of New Orleans between 1999 and 2011. However, B.A.S.S. announced last year it would no longer schedule professional tournaments in Louisiana tidewaters where anglers risk being arrested for fishing what appear to be and have historically been public waterways. State law does not currently require the waters be posted against trespassing.
In a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament to be held April 6-9 on the Sabine River out of Orange, Texas, Louisiana waters have been declared off-limits to anglers, said Trip Weldon, B.A.S.S. tournament director.
He noted that in previous Elite tournaments on the Sabine, some anglers practiced in waters they thought were public, only to find them closed when competition began. In addition, anglers in the Bassmaster Central Open on the Sabine River last June were informed on the eve of competition they could not enter a large section of tidewaters where many had planned to fish.
Gilliland said B.A.S.S. supports efforts by the Louisiana Sportsman’s Coalition to update the state’s antiquated definitions of land ownership and navigable waters, and it has urged B.A.S.S. members in Louisiana — as well as those who travel from out of state to fish in the “Sportsman’s Paradise” — to support passage of the HB 391. “This bill is a start in the right direction,” he said.
Pearson’s bill states, “The running waters of the state and the wild aquatic life inhabiting those waters are and remain the property of the state and, as such, title and ownership remain unchanged whether the running waters flow over public or private water bottoms.” It also would prohibit anyone from restricting or prohibiting the “public navigation of running waters which are navigable by a motorboat.”
In addition, it would protect private property along the canals and other channels from damage by boaters.