By Bryce Dix and Isaac Fason
River front property owners from around the state showed up to a New Mexico Game Commission meeting last month to voice concerns over security, trash, and liability—they say fishermen are using their private land to access waterways.
In New Mexico, waterways such as rivers and streams are considered public to residents—but in order to access this water, people often have to trespass over private land.
In response to this problem, the New Mexico Game Commission decided to impose a 90-day moratorium in late July, preventing landowners from labeling water that runs over their land as “non-navigable.” This allows fishermen to fish where they please.
However, even if the water is “non-navigable,” it is still considered public.
In 1945, the New Mexico Supreme Court did rule that the public may fish, swim in, and use streams, even as they run on private property, as long as people don’t trespass across private land to reach the streams, or trespass on private land upon leaving the waterways.
At the Aug. 22 meeting in Santa Fe, the moratorium was not even on the agenda, but it was heavily discussed in general public comment..
Over a dozen landowners, advocates, and fishermen formed a line of speakers hoping to express their concerns about the moratorium. The biggest point of contention between the landowners and the fishermen was over whether the land water runs over is considered private or public land.
Joseph Rick Simpson was one of the landowners who spoke at the meeting. He says a stream runs through his land and the land patent that his grandfather received did not say whether people can fish on the land or not.
Simpson also stressed that he owns the land that the stream runs over.
“You’ve got to see what they [the fishermen] have done since I was a kid up there in Terrero,” he said. “It’s disgusting… my friends don’t even drink the water up there.”
Deborah Eckle is another homeowner who is concerned about liability issues. She says if someone got hurt on her private property, she could face a lawsuit. She also requested additional security and trash cleanup services be provided if people are allowed to access the water though her land, because she finds trash—such as water bottles, lures and beer bottles on her property.
Steve Henry, the Vice President of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, opposed preventing fishermen and the public from accessing streams that run on private land. According to Henry, education is the best way to tackle the problem.
“One needs to be very ethical out there fishing,” he said. “Picking up trash and doing the bare minimum of disturbance that we can have on that private property.”
According to a press release from the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, 70 percent of waters in New Mexico are already open to the public, while only about 10 percent are on privately-owned land.
Joanna Prukop, chair of the game commission, said further discussion of water front property rights will appear in the agenda of future commission meetings. No dates have been set to discuss the issue.
The next scheduled meeting of the commission is September 18th in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. For more information, visit www.wildlife.state.nm.us/commission.
Bryce Dix is a reporter for the New Mexico Newsport. He can be reached on Twitter @brycemdix and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Isaac Fason is a reporter for the New Mexico Newsport. He can be reached on Twitter @izfason or at email@example.com.