Louisiana Fishermen Fighting for Water Rights
The Louisiana Sportsmen Coalition is in a battle with the Louisiana oil industry over rights to use coastal marshwaters for their respective enterprises. Representatives of local fisherman argue that oil companies who own nearby lands have unjustly also claimed ownership of adjacent waters that flow in and out of manmade channels. The sportsmen state that the waters, though very good for fishing, are being treated as off-limits, and the fishermen themselves are being treated as trespassers. Specifically, they say, “It has gotten to the point where [oil companies] are having local law enforcement agencies, like the sheriff’s office and justices of peace, write criminal trespassing tickets to people.”
The conflict came to a head last year when a professional Bassmaster fishing tournament was held in these areas. The world-renowned fishermen, individuals who make a living by these tournaments, unknowingly wandered into “privately owned” waters and were met by authorities. Following the tournament, the Bass Angler Sportsmen Society (B.A.S.S.), the national organization responsible for the well-known Bassmaster tournaments officially announced that it would no longer schedule professional tournaments in Louisiana tidewaters, a decision that will, without doubt, negatively impact the state’s fishing industry. Thus, as the sportsman’s coalition argues, the battle over water access is more than a debate about who can travel where; it is actually a battle over the prioritization of industries, and favor traditionally lies with the oil industry.
Unfortunately for the fishermen, a recently proposed bill that would have granted public access to the marshwater failed in Louisiana’s House of Representatives. The bill argued that because the waters are “running waters”—they freely flow into positively public waterways such as the Gulf of Mexico—they cannot be partitioned as either public or private, and therefore, their default status would be considered public. Opponents of the bill argued that just as one can claim ownership of dry land, one can claim ownership of the bottomlands underneath the water, for coastal erosion is constantly converting dryland into bottomland. The House’s vote reinforces Louisiana’s status as one of the only coastal states that does not consider tidal waters open for public use.