Saturday, March 17, 2018

Five fishing legislative bills to follow

Years ago, during a heated battle for a state representative post, one candidate aired a commercial that was the talk of the town. A woman awakes from her sleep, startled, grabs a flashlight and stealthly approaches a closed door. The narrator said something to the effect, "They're back. The scariest thing imaginable.". The woman opens the door and screams. On the other side of the door is a group of well-dressed people moving from desk to desk inside the state capital rotunda. The narrator concludes, "The Louisiana Legislature!".

The announcer had it somewhat right. Anytime the Louisiana legislature is in session, anything can happen and sometimes really bad things can happen. Thanks to groups like CCA and others, we anglers at least have some sense of security, knowing these groups are watching out for us. But it doesn't mean we shouldn't get involved. Just the opposite - we need to know what bills are being filed, how they will impact us, and contact our legislators and let them know we support or oppose certain bills.

With the 2018 session kicking off on Monday, most of the bills have been pre-filed. While there are nearly two dozen pieces of legislation involving fish and fishing - House bills (HB), Senate bills (SB), House resolutions (HCR), and Senate resolutions (SCR) - we've picked the five worth watching, and give our opinion on each. Sponsor names are in parenthesis.

SB176 (Gerald Long). Reduces crappie daily limit on Sibley Lake from 50 to 25. We SUPPORT this bill, but would ask that the geographical area be extended to all waters west of Highway 167 and north of I-10. The vast majority of these waters are in the so-called Piney Hills of Louisiana where low alkalinity makes them rather infertile. Further, Louisiana is the only state with a crappie limit greater than 25.  Other states have shown that the severe spikes in juvenile crappie recruitment have been moderated with lower limits. Since Toledo Bend is already 25 amending this bill would not affect the bi-state agreement.

SB453 (Dan Morrish). This bill provides an exemption to the recent state law that permits only tonging of oysters in Calcasieu Lake. We OPPOSE this bill. When Calcasieu had millions of oysters, they filtered out water, keeping the lake clear and clean and a perfect habitat for the world's best speckled trout fishery. The demise of trout fishing in the lake has been proven linked to the mechanical harvesting that has resulted in over 90 percent reduction in the oyster population. Which is why the bill allowing only tonging (the historical method) was passed. As the lake's oyster population rebuilds, now is not the time for any exemptions.

HB688 (Rodney Lyons). This bill moves litter education and enforcement from shared DEQ and LDWF entirely to LDWF. We SUPPORT this bill. I can tell you our readers, from personal experience, that the current system doesn't work. Way too much confusion and bureaucracy! Putting it in the hands of LDWF gives us anglers a more powerful voice in keeping our waterways clean.

I saved the biggest two for last...

HB391 (Kevin Pearson). This bill provides public access to the running waters of the state. We STRONGLY SUPPORT this bill... with provision!  The bill would provide for public navigation of running waters - over both public and privately owned water bottoms connected to a state-owned water bottom that is subject to the ebb and flow of the tide. The situation in our coastal marshes gets worse by the month. Many areas that we used to fish are now posted, even though they're mostly open marsh. In addition, the recent announcement that Bob's Bayou Black Marina near Houma will have to close because the canal leading from it will be gated and blocked has angered and rallied the fishing community behind HB391. Louisiana is the only state with such restrictive tidal access laws. On the other hand... I do see the concern of many duck hunters. I think there is room for an amendment to this bill that would satisfy both anglers and hunters.

HB687 (Jerome Zeringue).  Restructures hunting and fishing licenses. We SUPPORT this bill. Three reasons we support it. First, LDWF funding from oil and gas on their properties has taken a plunge. The Department has been running in the red. It needs a more stable funding. Second, most of our license fees have not been increased in over a decade. LDWF receives NO general revenue funding, so it needs to keep up with costing through fees. And third, matching funds. As one retired LDWF employee told me, it's not the fees themselves that generate much money, it's the matching federal dollars. Louisiana is losing out on a mountain of federal dollars from excise taxes because of our current license structure.  Apparently the cane pole licenses and the senior hunting and fishing licenses don't meet a matching threshold. Under HB687, those two licenses would be modified. Hook and Line (cane pole type) from $2.50 to $5.00. The Senior license for 60 and older which is now $5.00 for both fishing and hunting would be changed to 50% reduction from standard licenses. The basic fishing license would be increased from $9.50 to $13.50. It's our hope that most of this increased revenue from basic fees will go to helping address the many issues with our freshwater fisheries.