SALT LAKE CITY -- Sean Dickey loves to fly-fish on the Weber River and worries access to the waterway will be threatened if a bill before the Legislature moves forward.
Dickey joined a group of about 200 other fishermen Friday morning on the steps of the Capitol to protest the potential implications of HB 68, sponsored by Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield. The bill would declare certain water rights are protected by the Utah Constitution.
Fishermen claim the bill means private property rights will always trump the public right to fish Utah waters. They claim the legislation privatizes public resources.
Dickey said the bill would impose even more limits on his access to the river, not allowing him to wade the river in search of potential hot spots. He said he would have to leave the river and then drive to another access spot, instead of working a river as fly-fishermen do in trying to find areas where fish are biting.
Caught in the middle of the issue is Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, who hopes to introduce legislation next week tailored after an Idaho measure that allows anglers to access navigable public streams.
Pitcher said he has spoken with McIff, who will pull back on running his bill, while the Ogden lawmaker brings forth a new measure to deal with access to public waterways. Pitcher expects his bill to be ready to begin review early next week.
Pitcher said his legislation is intended to bring parties on both sides of the issue together in a compromise. He said his measure is an access bill, not a fishing bill.
"This is about policy change. I believe in property rights," Pitcher said.
Pitcher also produced historical research on the Weber River, that shows it has been navigable dating back to 1852 when Robert Gardner floated logs down the river.
The lawmaker claims his legislation will address wading, walking and fishing in a stream corridor below a high-water mark and also protect private property rights by prohibiting the public from crossing private land to reach a stream that is open to public use.
Pitcher stressed that a key criteria in the legislation will be whether a public waterway is navigable. He said small streams will still be protected from public use.