South Louisiana anglers are watching as the tidal waters are becoming off-limits to common folk, thanks to complicated Louisiana laws that allow landowners to claim tidal waters as private.
For decades, Louisiana anglers have been watching their access rights to tidal waters evaporate even faster than the subsiding marshlands that surround them. This affects Texas anglers who fish Sabine Lake and other tidal waters shared by the two states.
Beset with requests from law-enforcement agencies, landowners and frustrated anglers, the Louisiana Office of State Lands more than a decade ago began putting together maps showing which of the state’s coastal waters are public and which are privately claimed. Originally on paper, that series of maps was converted to an online database that interested parties may search to discover where the public may or may not venture.
Any angler or tourism official who looks at the maps might instantly blanch in terror.
The state claims astonishingly little of its 3.6 million acres of coastal wetlands. The rest, which includes the water running through them and surrounding them, are privately owned and legally off-limits to anyone not granted permission.
The problem was exacerbated by a well-intentioned state law passed in 2003 absolving landowners of the responsibility to post their holdings as private. Prior to the law’s passage, anything not clearly posted, or marked with “No Trespassing” signs, was fair game for public access.
That’s the way it is in other coastal states, including Texas, according to Brittany Eck, press secretary for the Texas General Land Office.
“Generally, as a rule, all along the coast of Texas, all tidal waters are owned by the state,” she said. “The state owns the water and the land below it, and they’re all open to the public.
“Basically, if you can boat it, you can float it.”
But in Louisiana, things are not that cut and dried. The state says anything that wasn’t declared as navigable when Louisiana was granted statehood in 1812 isn’t navigable today. You might be able to catch speckled trout, run crab traps and water ski on it, but in the eyes of the state, it’s dry land, and the only way it can transition over to public water is if the land adjacent to it erodes or subsides to such a point that it becomes an “arm of the sea.”
That means every shallow-water redfish angler breaks the law every time he or she goes fishing, unless that angler is fortunate enough to own or lease his or her own section of tidal water. Speckled trout anglers aren’t off the hook, either, since many of their inshore stomping grounds weren’t mapped at the time of statehood.
So what is navigable in Louisiana?
The Louisiana Sportsmen’s Coalition is seeking to open Louisiana’s tidal waters to unfettered access by anglers. Other similar efforts in past years have died on the vine due to lack of organization and very limited stroke with lawmakers.
According to reports the Louisiana Sportsmen’s Coalition has attracted 5,000 followers on Facebook, and grows every day. Not only does the problem hurt local anglers, it also hits the state’s general economy as well.
According to Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries data, the state every year sells about 25,000 basic non-resident fishing licenses and another 20,000 saltwater licenses. Both are required to fish the state’s coastal zone. Many of those anglers rent hotel rooms, eat at local restaurants and buy supplies like ice, fuel and bait. Stan Mathes, tourism director for Plaquemines Parish, estimates each out-of-state angler who comes to his parish to fish spends $1,000 to $2,000 over the course of a weekend.
“I got an email today from a guy in Orange, Texas, who said he used to buy an out-of-state license every year to fish Louisiana, but he doesn’t anymore because he said there’s nowhere to fish,” said Bobby Gros, a Louisiana fishing guide. He has watched the problem mushroom over three decades he’s been fishing the waters around Leeville, but his level of frustration is now at its peak.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, said any unnecessary restrictions on our residents’ and tourists’ ability to fish our waters needs to be analyzed and improved. Our successful fishing tournaments along our coast need more acreage available to attract anglers from across the country.”