Access rights to public waterways

Question: I have a question regarding access rights to California waterways. I’ve noticed “no trespassing” signs posted on many of the Delta sloughs south of Sacramento that state the area between the public road and the slough itself cannot be accessed or fished. These look like government signs.

While investigating I found that state and federal law, as well as the California Constitution (Article 10, sections 1, 4 and 7), appear to guarantee the public’s access to these waterways. Shouldn’t the public have the right to access and fish from this land? (Abe M.)

Answer: While California law allows for public access to public waters, it does not grant the public the right to cross private property to reach those waters. That means that while the waters are open to public use and passage, in order to reach those waters you may need to do so from a public launch ramp. If you want to fish from a bank, you will need to do so from areas that are public property or not marked with No Trespassing signs due to private property rights.

The signs you are referring to here are different, though. According to Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Capt. Mark Lucero, the posting at the Delta levees has been an issue since early 2000 when the reclamation districts first erected these signs to keep anglers from parking their vehicles on the levees and down embankments. DFG has received constant complaints from anglers upset with the posting and lack of accessibility to the river. We inform the anglers that the trespass issue is a Penal Code law and not a Fish and Game Code law. We also inform them to remain in the area is a violation of the Penal Code and they may be cited by a sheriff’s deputy. There’s been a real effort lately, through CalTIP and letters sent to DFG, to get our officers to address this issue. However, the Penal Code trespass issue is not jurisdictionally a Fish and Game priority. In addition, anglers may fish from the bank of the levees if they access the bank via navigable means and stay within the mean high tide.


Roadkill is not food!
Question:A friend recently hit a deer, causing about $1,200 damage to the vehicle. He picked up the deer and put it in his truck to take home for food. He was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy who told him to take the deer out of his vehicle or he would be cited. I heard that it is legal to pick up “roadkill.” Can you please clarify this? (Sandy B.)

Answer: The officer was correct. It is illegal to pick up roadkill wildlife in California. No one may possess wildlife in any form unless the animal was legally taken by a licensed hunter during the hunting season for that species and while using approved harvest methods. Given this, even if the first criteria were true (your friend was a licensed hunter), motor vehicles are not a legal method of take. The next time your friend sees an animal killed on the roadway, he should not attempt to retrieve it for any purpose.


Can sport-caught fish be prepared and consumed at sea
Question: Can sport-caught fish be prepared and consumed at sea when fishing/diving from a private vessel? (Ben W.)

Answer: Yes, legally taken fish may be prepared and consumed at sea, but there are some restrictions. Abalone must remain attached to their shell and lobster tails must remain attached to the carapace until they are being prepared for immediate consumption. For finfish that may be filleted at sea, the skin (or prescribed portion) must remain attached for species identification until they are being prepared for immediate consumption (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 27.65)


Crows damaging crops?
Question: I am having problems with crows damaging my crops. Based on size, I think we also have ravens at work here. I know there is a crow hunting season, but what about ravens? Since “corvids” (crows and ravens) are very problematic predators for song birds and marbled murrelets on the coast, can landowners get a depredation permit for either species? If so, where? (Patrick)

Answer: There is no hunting season for ravens. They are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Check with the Permit Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) at www.fws.gov/permits/. Crows are also protected by the MBTA, but there is an open hunting season between December and April each year (CCR Title 14, section 485). In addition, both Federal (50 CFR 21.43 http://www.gpoaccess.gov/cfr/index.html) and state regulations (CCR Title 14 section 472(d)  http://weblinks.westlaw.com) permit the take of crows that are found committing or about to commit depredations on ornamental or shade trees or agricultural crops.  Several specific conditions apply to the use of these regulations to address depredation by crows so be sure to read the regulations on the links provided.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.

One response to “Access rights to public waterways

  1. The access laws are a bit complicated, but in relation to private land there may be a constitutional defense tendered if the land was public before it was private, and the land was was sold or transferred to the private entity after article 1, section 25 of the Cal Constitution was enacted (1910). That article of the constitution says the no state land shall be sold or transferred without reserving in the people, the absolute right to fish thereupon. But in addition to that reservation, many court rulings have blunted the access and right, where there is a duty to protect the public, or a public resource. So as she mentioned, parking becomes a safety issue, as well as levee erosion and other related

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