What is Californians’ Constitutional Right to Fish?

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family fishes in river with green trees in background
A family fishes in a river. (Getty Images)

Many Californians might be unaware of their constitutional right to fish in public state-owned lands.  

In a recent episode of UC Davis Law’s podcast, “Justice Defined: Scholars of King Hall,” Karrigan Börk, Professor of Law at UC Davis, discussed Californians’ constitutional right to fish. Börk takes information from his recent article, “California's Constitutional Right to Fish,” that he co-authored with Francis Coats, UC Davis School of Law JD alum. 

Established in 1910, Article 1 Section 25 of California’s constitution dictates Californians have a constitutional right to fish in all public lands, except fish hatcheries, owned by the state. The public can access lands previously owned by the state and then sold to any individual or group after 1910. However, the state might still require fishing licenses from people and dictate what species can be fished during certain times of the year. 

Bork says “(The right to fish) is in the constitution as a public use right and that gives it even more protection because it is something the courts, the legislature, and the state can’t widdle away. It’s a protected interest for the people." 

The constitutional right to fish emerged from Californians’ fear of losing access to the state’s natural resources as private property laws emerged in the late 19th century. The amendment was an action to preserve people’s access to resources across the state. 

However, California has made minimal efforts to protect people’s constitutional right to fish. Despite having the data, the state has not created a map of the lands the right applies to. As a result, many landowners are unaware there is a public right of access across their properties. Additionally, the state decided to not open its lands for public use.  

Some of California’s underrepresented, immigrant, minority and low-income populations rely on fishing as a food source and fish as a cultural practice. Professor Börk explains this might be one of the reasons why the fishing amendment receives minimal attention. 

“These are people who tend not to have a lot of political power, tend not to be as able to engage in the political process, or as inclined to engage in the political process in California. That might be one of the reasons that the right to fish has so much less protection… There’s not as many people with power clambering for its protection" says Börk. 

This blog highlights and summarizes a podcast episode from the UC Davis School of Law podcast, Justice Defined: Scholars of King Hall. You can listen to the full podcast episode here and read Professor Karrigan Börk’s article here

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Media contact:

  • Kelley Weiss, School of Law, kweiss@ucdavis.edu

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