Proposed Fishing Rights Bill Advances to Full House for Crucial Vote

Proposed Fishing Rights Bill Advances to Full House for Crucial Vote

ATLANTA: Despite protests from representatives of recreational boating groups who said the bill is unduly restrictive, a state House committee narrowly adopted legislation guaranteeing Georgians the right to fish in navigable rivers and streams.

House Bill 1172 is a follow-up to legislation that was passed by the General Assembly on the final day of the previous year’s session. It was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday with just one vote.

The Upper Flint River property owner filed a lawsuit last year, attempting to forbid public fishing on his portion of the river. This led to the introduction of the measure that year.

Some owners of waterfront properties expressed concerns about the bill’s inclusion of language that codified Georgia people’ right to utilize the state’s waterways under the “public trust doctrine” after Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law last July.

Before Thursday’s vote, House Majority Whip James Burchett, R-Waycross, the primary sponsor of House Bill 1172, informed committee members that the new bill removed the reference to the public trust doctrine while preserving the goals of the previous year’s legislation.

“This state’s citizens have an inherent right of use for passage for hunting and fishing on navigable streams under common law,” he declared.

Burchett noted that the law is limited to streams that are passable.

Opponents of the initiative countered that the state’s present definition of “navigable streams” is based on the 19th century, when Georgia’s waterways were utilized for freight transportation.

According to Joe Cook, coordinator of the Paddle Georgia program of the Georgia River Network, numerous streams in the state that are big enough to support a boat are not included in that description.

He declared, “A large portion of Georgia’s streams will be deemed unnavigable.” “A large number of our journeys occur on rivers and streams that would not be considered passable. On all of these impassable streams, there is a right of passage.

According to Suzanne Welander, the author of a guidebook on canoeing and kayaking in Georgia, recreational paddling is a rapidly expanding sport in the state that will provide 238,000 jobs and $1.1 billion in revenue by 2022.

She expressed anxiety that future generations might not be able to have those experiences.

Former Georgia Canoeing Association president Carol Reiser reported that fishing rights legislation has been passed by lawmakers in North and South Carolina, guaranteeing public access to any river or stream that can support a boat—so long as the boaters stay in the water and don’t enter private property. She said recreational Georgian canoeists would be in favor of a similar strategy.

“We go through,” stated Reiser. “We don’t go out and have parties on other people’s land.”

Nonetheless, Burchett’s bill is supported in its current form, according to testimony given to the committee by representatives of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, Georgia Farm Bureau, and Georgia Forestry Association.

Stan Gunter, a Republican from Baldwinsville who chaired the committee and gave the final vote to approve the bill, hinted that the law might change as it passes the House.

Following the vote, Gunter remarked, “This is just the first step.” There is still more to do.

In order to arrange a vote of the entire House, House Bill 1172 is currently headed to the House Rules Committee.

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