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Entries in Virginia (8)


Fisheries Damage From Coal Ash Spill Investigated

Coal ash on a canoe paddle. Photo by Associated Press

Three weeks following a catastrophic coal ash spill at a Duke Energy facility, biologists are looking into how fish have fared in the Dan River along the North Carolina-Virginia border. They’ve captured samples that will be examined in a lab for contamination from pollutants such as arsenic, mercury, chromium, selenium, magnesium, lead, copper, and zinc.

Signs at the Milton boating access, meanwhile, warn people not to eat fish from the river or to touch the water without washing with soap immediately afterward.

And a researcher says that the spill will cause at least $70 million in damage to fish, wildlife, and other economic values associated with the river.  “It will almost certainly go up, perhaps way up, from there by a factor of 5 to 10,” Dennis Lemly said.

Those who collected fish said the river looked relatively normal with the number and species that they would expect to see this time of year, according to the News & Record.

Not far away, the fallout continues from a chemical spill in West Virginia’s Elk River during early January.

The West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Downstream Strategies have identified 63 potential pollution threats in a new report. They include 40 commercial, 17 industrial, and 5 municipal facilities, including everything from above-ground storage tanks to wells producing natural gas.

The spill at Freedom Industries forced 300,000 people to turn off their taps and use bottled water for 5 to 10 days.

Long-term effects to the river and its aquatic life still are being assessed. Shortly after the spill, investigators said that impact on fish appeared minimal, according to Metro News.


Don't Be 'Dead Right' When It Comes to Public Access

Most of the time, anglers are in the right in confrontations with property owners over access to waterways.

But there’s little consolation in being dead right.

Such was the fate of Paul Dart Jr., who was floating Missouri’s Meramec River with friends with this summer. After stopping at a gravel bar, they were confronted by a property owner, who told them to leave.

Dart asserted that he had the legal right to be there. The property owner disagreed, and, according to witnesses, shot him dead.

In addition to being charged with second-degree murder, the shooter almost certainly was wrong regarding his property rights, according to Missouri case law. But Dart still is dead.

Most times, property owners are content to hurl obscenities and/or squirt water at those of us whom they believe are trespassing. But a confrontation regarding access can turn deadly just as suddenly as can an incident of road rage. Consequently, you are best advised to motor --- or paddle--- away promptly if you feel threatened. Far enough, at least, to be out of firearm range. Then call police, if you believe that you are in the right, and especially if you have been threatened with bodily harm.

But how do you know if you are in the right? On most lakes and reservoirs, the issue usually is clear-cut. Contrary to what they may think, property owners do not own the water that adjoins their land. Yes, local regulations may restrict how close you can get to a private dock or boat house. If you accessed the water legally, however, you have the right to fish most of it. Still, don’t assume anything. Be certain of the law before you challenge those who tell you to leave.

For flowing waters, and the oxbows associated with them, the access issue is far more complicated and rights vary from state to state. Generally, we have the right to fish navigable waters from a boat, no matter who owns the adjacent property.

One overarching constant in this muddled mess is the definition of navigable waters, according to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations:

“Navigable waters of the United States are those waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide and/or are presently used, or have been used in the past, or may be susceptible for use to transport interstate or foreign commerce. A determination of navigability, once made, applies laterally over the entire surface of the waterbody, and is not extinguished by later actions or events which impede or destroy navigable capacity.”

Still, a seemingly endless array of variables can play into the determination by states and courts of what flowing waters are “navigable” and public, as well as to what extent. For example, property owners in Virginia assert that anglers cannot wade a stretch of the Jackson River because they own the river bottom based on historical grants dating to the 18th century, before the colonies became a sovereign country.

In a case involving the Missouri River, meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the state of Montana has the right to protect the public’s use and enjoyment of rivers, regardless of who owns the bottom.  At the same time, though, the court decided that a utility that operates hydroelectric dams does not have to pay “rent” to the state for the river bottom.

Under the “equal footing” provision of the Constitution, states have title to the beds of navigable rivers within their borders. But that ownership is dependent upon the navigability of the water at the time of statehood. The court agreed with the utility that this particular stretch of the Missouri was not navigable when Montana became a state in 1889 and so could be privately owned.

Down in Mississippi, where anglers like to fish oxbows, the public’s right to a waterway applies to water between the natural banks. “The public cannot legally step out of the boat and onto the dry bank or bed of a public waterway without landowner permission,” said the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Legal Program.

“If the water has flooded beyond the natural banks, that is not public water.”

In many states, the “ordinary high water mark” indicates the limit to which anglers can go. Consequently, they are in their rights to use gravel bars when rivers are low during summer, as long as they accessed the river legally.

That likely was the case for Paul Dart Jr. and his friends who were floating the Meramec River. But, sadly, an ill-advised confrontation made him dead right.


Public Access at Risk in Virginia

In Virginia, the state attorney general is refusing to intervene on behalf of the people, especially the people who fish. A Virginia landowner is suing two anglers for trespassing on a portion of the Jackson River based on crown and commonwealth land grants, which precede the founding of this country, and, consequently, Virginia law.

By contrast, Virginia law states that all river and stream beds are public property. Additionally, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) officially is on the side of anglers. According to both, the anglers did not trespass on private property.

DGIF stocks the Jackson with trout, using funds from fishing license fees and federal excise taxes on fishing tackle. Plus, launch ramps paid for with public money provide access to this stretch of the river.

“Because the attorney general’s office refuses to intervene, these two anglers are now defending rights of all of Virginia’s anglers, boaters, and outdoor enthusiasts in court,” says Keep America Fishing.

“If the court decides in favor of the real estate developer, property owners across the state could deny access to anglers and other recreationists on stretches of water for which they hold crown or commonwealth grants.”

Go here to learn more and to send a message to Gov. Bob McDonnell and Virginia’s attorney general’s office, requesting the state to defend the interests of the state and its people.


Anglers Angry About Virginia Governor's Proposal to End Tournament

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s recent proposal to kill the popular Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament is a perfect example of being penny wise and pound foolish.

He recommended the cut to save money during tough economic times, not realizing --- let’s give him the benefit of the doubt --- that he really was eliminating an important revenue stream for his state.

But plenty of folks are reminding him.

"The Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament is a huge part of why recreational angling contributes so much to Virginia's economy," said state Sen. Ralph S. Northam.

"The well-run citation, Expert and Master Angler, and annual species awards programs greatly enhance the draw of fishing in Virginia for natives and visitors alike. That means tourism revenue and jobs, two things that we should be looking to create, not destroy." reports that Northam will introduce an amendment to McDonnell’s budget that would restore enough money to maintain the season-long tournament, in which anglers are awarded certificates and plaques for catching a variety of saltwater species that meet length and weigh minimums.

"I don't understand where this is coming from," added Chris Snook, a member of the tournament's advisory committee who also owns Chris' Bait and Tackle on the Eastern Shore. "The program brings anglers in from all over the place and brings in lots of money to the state. North Carolina has added money to its program to make it better . . . more like ours.

"This just doesn't make any sense."

The Recreational Fishing Alliance has weighed in as well in a letter to the governor:

“RFA and its members know full well that these are tough economic times which require difficult fiscal decisions on how to best spend taxpayer dollars. However, suspending a money-making state program like the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament ultimately will lead to lost tourism receipts, decreasing tax revenues, and more private sector employment.

“Recreational fishing in Virginia is a jobs creator, which is why RFA is asking that your office reconsider this penny-wise plan which promises to negatively impact future angler effort and participation without our coastal fishing industry.”


Virginia Activists Needed to Help Defend Public Access

At a time when many in this country believe that we are being ruled by an “imperial” administration that cares little about the will of the people, the Virginia Rivers Defense Fund certainly has struck the right chord in a call for action to defend public access.

On its website, it says:

Ask the State Attorney General to Defend VA Rivers Against Laws from a King Long Defeated, Dead and Gone.

And it adds:

Your right to use public rivers in the Commonwealth of Virginia is under threat if laws enacted by King George III stand supreme over our Virginia Constitution!

Under a Virginia statue that is more than 200 years old, the beds of all rivers and streams “are the property of the Commonwealth and may be used as a common by all the people for the purposes of fishing, fowling, hunting, and taking and catching of oysters and shellfish.”

Yet the developer of a golf community near Covington has filed a civil trespassing suit against three anglers who floated the river in kayaks. It claims that it owns the bed of the Jackson River by virtue of two land grants that predated passage of that statue.

To learn more and get involved, go here.