(Editor's note: The following is a rebuttal to BassFan columnist Joe Balog's March 29 submission regarding Louisiana's status as the "Sportsman's Paradise." It comes from Louisiana Delta bass-fishing legend Steve Rockweiler, a regular source of information for BassFan scouting reports for Delta tournaments and a frequent contributor to this site's Feedback section.)
Joe needs to stick to subjects he knows, like bass fishing.
I have lived on the Louisiana Delta my entire life ... 65 years. I have witnessed many changes, none of them good. I am one of 11 children and came up hunting, fishing, trapping, crabbing and shrimping on these once immense waterways. They supplied a lot of food for us. But the times, they are changing.
There were not a lot of closed and posted marshes and waterways until the 1987 case of Phillips Oil vs. the State of Mississippi. Phillips tried to claim state water bottoms when they applied for permits to drill wells. The state told Phillips that some of those water bottoms were theirs, and a lot belonged to the state. A suit followed and it went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that Phillips was attempting to own water bottoms given to the state when it entered into statehood. The Court also ruled that Phillips could not post and restrict the public from traveling on their own waterways. Waters affected by the ebb and flow of the tide at the sea and arms of the sea were held in public trust, no matter who bought, sold or owned them.
This created a wave of concern in Louisiana for these same oil and huge land companies. They have been telling the public they own their marshes, their waterways, the fish and game in them – all of it. Well, that was not entirely accurate. These companies then formed the Louisiana Landowners Association and started lobbying our lawmakers in Baton Rouge. A 4-year study was performed by the state and members of several law schools. In spite of this study, which found that legally one could not own the tidal waters, laws were amended. Even so, natural waterways and lakes supposedly could not be owned.
Now, this is where another good deed was done by these industries. According to the United States Geological Survey, 10,000 to 15,000 miles of canals and pipelines were dug to extract minerals and never covered. This led to massive saltwater intrusion and loss of much of our marsh, a lot which is open water. They did another bad thing, they destroyed many of the natural waterways fishermen used for generations to travel to their fishing grounds. The ones not completely destroyed they turned into mud flats due to capturing the water flow in the maze of canals. Now, in many areas, we must travel dug canals in order to get somewhere. Of course, the oil and land companies tell us that most were dug on their marshland. Gates have gone up all over and miles and miles have been posted. It has gotten so bad that a few of us fishermen started talking two years ago and realized at the current rate of closures, our children would not have places to fish, never mind our grandchildren.
We decided something had to be done, and thus started a group called the Louisiana Sportsmen's Coalition. I am a board member and have been to the capitol in Baton Rouge dozens of times. We have 9,000 members, regular citizens mostly, but we do have some coastal landowners, too. We are trying to fight companies that are collectively worth over a trillion dollars. If that ain't David vs. Goliath!
By state law, they can own the water bottoms of their purchased marsh but CANNOT own the water ... yet they do. Oil is about played out in the 13 coastal parishes – the money is now in deep water and the shale formations north of this Delta. What has been going down is this: Leasing large tracts of the Delta to the highest bidder. You want some prime waterfowl hunting? Come on down and bid on it. You want some prime salt- or freshwater fishing? Come on and bid. You crab or shrimp for a living? Come on and bid on large bays and lakes ... if you have deep pockets. This is what the Delta is turning into.
There are 13 coastal parishes. The worst two right now are Lafourche and Terrebone. Poor Lafourche has 13 public launches. If you leave any of those launches, you are on private waters and subject to a criminal trespassing arrest and citation. This is our future. We are steadily being harassed and threatened by the armed "caretakers" of these companies. Many tourists from other states have been confronted when fishing with guides by these armed goons and have vowed never to come back here. I cannot say that I blame them.
A Representative from Slidell has submitted HB-391, which seeks to change laws and go back to what the law is supposed to be here. If this bill sees the light of day, I will be shocked. The latest deal that has Joe's Cajuns up in arms is the closing of Bayou Black Marina. They had a 30-year lease with Williams Land Company. When one launches at this marina, they must travel an old oilfield dug canal to get to the Intracoastal Waterway, about a mile. Williams does not want to extend this lease.
This marina is the main launch for the Houma region and I understand they launch over 2,500 boats a week during duck season. Most of their wells are dry now. I will let your imagination wonder what that is about.
So, if you folks want to join our coalition, you can go to our webpage, it's 20 bucks. If not, just say a few prayers for us.