A legislative study committee recommended Thursday that the state step up its investment in public fishing areas as a way to discourage trespassing on private property.
The House Study Committee on Fishing Access to Freshwater Resources held several hearings around the state in October as a follow-up to legislation the General Assembly passed in March guaranteeing Georgians the right to fish in navigable portions of the state’s rivers and streams.
Senate Bill 115 was introduced after a property owner along a stretch of the Flint River known as Yellow Jacket Shoals banned fishing from the bank on its side of the river. While the measure drew enthusiastic support from sportsmen’s groups, its language left unclear what constitutes a navigable river or stream and what does not.
The study committee recommended Thursday that the state address that issue by determining the navigability of each river and stream in Georgia.
“That was a huge sticking point for many of our property owners,” said House Majority Whip James Burchett, R-Waycross, the committee’s chairman.
Riverfront property owners who testified during the committee’s hearings complained of people traipsing through their properties on the way to and from fishing holes, leaving trash and becoming a general nuisance.
To address that issue, the study committee recommended increasing penalties for trespassing while maintaining the core of Senate Bill 115 intact.
“We want to make clear where our fishermen can fish in the state of Georgia … (but) have a stiffer penalty for trespassing,” Burchett said.
To make fishers less tempted to trespass, the panel recommended additional investment in the state’s public fishing areas. The committee’s report acknowledges the growth of fishing in Georgia, particularly in the trout streams of the North Georgia mountains.
The report now moves to the full state House of Representatives for consideration during the 2024 legislative session starting in January.