Landowners score victory over fishermen seeking access

BATON ROUGE — The House, after hours of debate, rejected legislation Tuesday aimed at giving fishermen greater access to waters along the state’s Gulf Coast. The bill pitted fishermen against landowners and those who lease property for hunting.

House Bill 391 by Rep. Kevin Pearson, R-Slidell, picked up 38 votes to 58 against. Seven of the nine Southwest Louisiana House members who voted against the bill were Reps. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles; James Armes, D-Leesville; Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur; Stephen Dwight, R-Moss Bluff; A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles; Johnny Guinn, R-Jennings; and Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, who also represents Cameron Parish.

Rep. Frank Howard, R-Many, voted for the bill. He represents Natchitoches, Sabine and Vernon parishes. Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek, is on a medical leave of absence.

Pearson said his major goal was to get competition fishing like Bassmasters tournaments back to Louisiana. Supporters said waters that are fenced or otherwise blocked reduce access for fishermen, and sports tournaments aren’t coming to the state.

The bill provided that running waters of the state and the wild aquatic life inhabiting those waters are and remain the property of the state. It said the title and ownership of the natural resources remain unchanged whether they flow over public or private water bottoms and are subject to the supervision and control of the state.

Pearson said there are fences and gates in wide bodies of water. He said Louisiana has a ridiculous water access policy and some dual claimed property areas remain off limits.

“Louisiana can’t be the Sportsman’s Paradise and fishermen get a ticket for trespassing,” Pearson said.

Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, said this is a major problem, but stakeholders have been at the table and the goal is to come up with a good, legal solution.

Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, made an impassioned plea for the landowners who would be affected by the legislation. He said 10,000 of them have leased property for hunting purposes and the bill would open up those areas to fishermen.

“Why lease anything if you don’t have the right to protect the property?” he asked.

Bishop said Pearson had a good bill, but it had unintended consequences. He asked his colleagues to instead approve something better, which Garofalo said it being studied by many organizations interested in the coastal waters.

Pearson closed on the bill saying billions of dollars are being spent on coastal restoration.

“Who for?” he said. “Why not for fishermen?”

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