August 14, 2014
Trouble has been brewing along Pennsylvania's Lake Erie shoreline as more and more landowners are closing their properties to public fishing, but at the same time allowing paid, private access to affluent customers who want to enjoy the bounty of Lake Erie's "Steelhead Alley"— in solitude.
The problem is that this "bounty" is 99% stocked steelhead, paid for by the state and ostensibly by the angling public. What the landowners have created—in alliance with outfitters who lease the water—is a series of private fishing preserves stocked by the state of Pennsylvania.
The solution to this problem may be Pennsylvania Legislation House Bill 2357 recently introduced by Representative Dan Moul which states that "Any water in this Commonwealth stocked with fish furnished by the commission, including water areas where stocked fish may migrate into, shall be open to the public for the purpose of free, lawful fishing."
The intention of the law is to give the angling public access to the entire length of Twentymile Creek, Elk Creek, Walnut Creek, and many other Lake Erie tributaries along Pennsylvania's short Lake Erie coast. The bill was co-sponsored by reps Gregory Lucas, Thomas Caltagirone, William Kortz, Garth Everett, Thomas Murt, Gordon Denlinger, and Mark Cohen; a mix of republicans and democrats from both urban and rural areas. The bill was referred to the Game & Fisheries Committee which will reconvene in September 2014.
While the proposed bill is a good sign that state lawmakers are standing by the angling public, the reality is that a law giving public access to private property won't stand up in court.
A more successful tactic may be for the PA Fish & Boat Commission to declare all private property as "nursery waters" in the fishing regulations, and close it to all fishing. They can do that. If the public can't fish there, no one fishes there. Then use the Erie Access Improvement Grant Program to purchase longterm fishing easements on these properties, and re-open them to all fishermen.