Good news for anglers welcomed

Good news doesn’t always come out of Baton Rouge, and that holds true for commercial and recreational fishermen alike.

HB 391 by Rep. J. Kevin Pearson R-Slidell, which would bar private landowners from privatizing public waterways that are navigable, passed through the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure, allowing for House debate that was scheduled for Tuesday.

A small but determined organization, the Louisiana Sportsmen’s Coalition, had fought for the bill and continues to fight for it. Several board members described incidents where sportsmen were challenged by gun-toting security free-lancers for landowners.

Paul Frey, director of the Louisiana Landowners’ Association, which strongly opposes the bill, has said that the incidents of threatened violence are isolated, and certainly did not involve any of his members. Opponents of the bill have also warned that the state will face crippling lawsuits if the law is enacted.

These arguments are self-serving. There will be no lawsuits if landowners don’t bring them. As for the violence or threats of violence, it doesn’t really matter what organization those landowners do or do not belong to.

The issue is a simple one, despite the rather complex clothing it wears.

That the bill passed committee with such organized opposition is miraculous to us. That’s the view shared by its proponents.

Sportsmen’s Coalition board member Darryl Carpenter confesses that he was surprised. Modestly, he credits no-show opponents for the committee meeting — among those we believe he is referring to Rep. Tanner Magee R-Houma — and undecided listeners, who asked questions and got what they must have believed were reasonable answers.

We don’t have a crystal ball, so we can’t tell you, ultimately, if this bill will gain final passage.

But we are impressed that it has moved this far, in a state where moneyed people have such a strong lock on lawmakers. We hope that it passes, and that if it doesn’t, it can be brought back at another session.

Fishing is not just a pastime in Louisiana. It is a right enshrined in our state constitution. The idea of anyone claiming ownership of fish or land that lies beneath tidewater while the tide is in causes us distress. The bill does not permit anyone traveling over the tidewater to utilize the land. It also holds landowners harmless from tort claims filed by people who might get injured in those waters.

Richard Fischer, the architect of the Sporstmen’s Association’s communications strategies, deserves a pat on the back as well.

We believe in the message stressed by the Sportsmen — if you can float it you can boat it — and believe that Louisiana should join most of the other states in our nation by using the provisions of this bill as a guide.

In Terrebonne Parish as elsewhere, landowners have enforced their property rights by placing pilings or other obstructions at points of ingress. These are not the situations we refer to. Rather, it is the unsuspecting boater who ends up in waters an owner presumes private that makes for potential trouble, and indeed has resulted in trouble.

Even if the bill stops short of passage this session, the Louisiana Sportsmen’s Association should be commended for the thorough and professional manner with which they have approached their goal. It is a great example of what happens when people are willing to stick their necks out to pull for what they believe is right and just.

Another issue that has received much state attention concerns regulations for fishing red snapper. We support the ability of commercial fishermen to go out and catch these prized creatures. But as is well documented, recreational fishermen have gotten the short end of the stick on this one. In recent years the dates for snapper season, as set by the federal government, have been laughably sparse. Last year Louisiana was allowed to handle snapper management.

This year — and next — NOAA is allowing the state to manage the red snapper fishery all the way out to 200 nautical miles using its LaCreel program.

State management will not include charter fishing. But for any person with the proper licenses to be able to fish for this majestic fish within a meaningful timeline, which the state no doubt will allow, the potential is enormous.

The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission will set the 2018 snapper dates at its next meeting, scheduled for May 3. We look forward to the commissioners exercising their newfound authority for red snapper fishing in federal as well as state waters.