Fishing Rights Bill Passes in Georgia House

February 26, 2024
1 min read

Legislation guaranteeing Georgians the right to hunt and fish in the state’s navigable rivers and streams cleared the Georgia House Monday.

House Bill 1172, which passed 107-60, is a follow-up to a bill the General Assembly passed on the final day of last year’s legislative session. Senate Bill 115 was quickly introduced and enacted after a property owner along the Upper Flint River filed a lawsuit seeking to ban public fishing along his stretch of the river.

After the measure took effect last summer, some waterfront property owners expressed concerns over a provision that declared Georgia citizens’ right to use the state’s waterways under the “public trust doctrine.”

While House Bill 1172 removed that provision, the legislation retains its underlying purpose of ensuring Georgians’ right to hunt and fish in navigable waterways, House Majority Whip James Burchett, R-Waycross, the bill’s chief sponsor, said before Monday’s vote.

“We’re balancing private property rights with the right to hunt, fish, and pass,” he said.

The bill’s opponents argued that removing the public trust doctrine from the measure would strip away legal protections for people who want to hunt and fish.

“I reject the false narrative that the Flint River is a private waterway,” said Rep. David Jenkins, R-Grantville.

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, urged lawmakers not to act on the bill because a second lawsuit filed by a private property owner remains pending.

But Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, who served on a legislative study committee that examined the fishing rights issue last fall, said last year’s Senate Bill 115 left unclear whether property owners along navigable waterways would be protected from recreational boaters trespassing and leaving trash behind.

“How would you like to own a home on a beautiful stream, and every morning when you get up you have to clean up?” he said. “You would want your property preserved if you lived on a navigable stream.”

One of the concerns the bill’s opponents have raised is how to determine which of Georgia’s waterways are navigable and which are not. Hoping to resolve that issue, Burchett has introduced separate legislation specifying 64 waterways that are presumed to be navigable.

Meanwhile, House Bill 1172 is now headed to the Georgia Senate.

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