ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Federation Vice President Pat Corrigan was casting along the shoreline of White Bear Lake, one of the state's most popular bass fisheries, when he was summoned by a waterborne law enforcement official to stop fishing.
It seemed that Corrigan had unknowingly violated an invisible law plaguing bass anglers from New England to Minnesota. In Corrigan's case, he was informed by the Ramsey County Water Patrol officer that a lakeshore property owner wanted a local ordinance enforced that provides a 100-foot "exclusive use zone" around private shoreline property.
Fortunately, this story eventually had a happy ending as Federations elsewhere are fighting for access rights to public waters. The ordinance, now repealed, gave property owners the right to exclude the public from up to 300 feet of the waters adjoining their land.
According to Mary Sue Simmons, outgoing Chairperson of the White Bear Lake Conservation District (WBLCD), anglers were not allowed to fish anywhere near the shoreline or private docks without permission from the owner of the land. In an e-mail sent to Minnesota's Conservation Director, Vern Wagner, Simmons wrote, "This is dangerous as well as illegal. The sheriff was enforcing our ordinances as he is paid to do as our enforcement agent."
Although the officers declined to issue a citation to Corrigan, he eventually pursued the matter with the Minnesota Federation Board. At issue was whether a local unit of government had the authority to extend the "rights" of shoreline property owners 100 to 300 feet into an upscale metro-area lake.
"We didn't think there was any legal precedent that could allow restricting the public's right to use public waters," said Paul Becka, an attorney and the Federation's East Regional Director. "Substantial case law allows use, and the ordinance likely violated the right to hunt and fish established by the Minnesota constitution."
As word of the controversy spread, the local outdoors media also picked up the story, resulting in immediate outcries from anglers directed at the WBLCD. Lakeshore property owners illegally claiming exclusive use of adjacent waters is a common problem in Minnesota. Bass fishermen who ply shorelines and docks are frequent targets.
Fortunately, Federation Board members, who raised their concerns before and during a meeting of the WBLCD Board, received an immediate, positive response. Luke Marchaud, a member of the WBLCD Board, said he didn't think the ordinance was intended to exclude the public from waters adjacent to the shore.
"We found a flaw in the ordinance and needed to fix it," said Marchaud.
Greg Donovan, another WBLCD board member, added the ordinance was actually created to control power boating near shorelines and that, historically, there were few problems between anglers and property owners.
"We've received a tremendous amount of mail on this issue," he added.
Becka worked with WBLCD attorney H. Alan Kantrud to amend the ordinance without disrupting the rest of its provisions. After a required period of public hearing and comment, the "exclusionary" provisions were removed by a unanimous vote of the WBLCD Board.