LA-MS Boundary
1898 Map

Battle over the Bivalves

     Ever hear the fish story about the settlement of the boundary line between Louisiana and Mississippi?  The prevailing story as retold many times by many persons of intellect as well as commercial and sports fishermen was that the argument was finally decided over a keg.  Some say an empty keg of nails, while others claim a keg of beer.  Indubitably, it was all a fish story.
     The truth of the matter can be found in a lengthy legal case settled by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 5, 1906, known as the Louisiana V. Mississippi suit.   Customarily, water bodies were settled by instituting the International Doctrine of the Thalweg, meaning the main channel or midway of landlocked water bodies — creating an imaginary line that follows the deepest part of a stream or navigational waters.  However, because the area of conflict was in open waters of Lake Borgne and the Mississippi Sound, calling upon a Thalweg decision was not legally appropriate.
     The dispute began due to the difference between state laws concerning oysters.  Mississippi permitted the dredging of oysters on its natural oyster reefs, whereas, Louisiana prohibited such dredging.  At that time, neither of the two States marked their boundaries by the use of buoys or used other line dividers, except by the United States Government in deep water channels.  To prevent the intrusion of Mississippi oystermen with dredging vessels, a call was made to mark the water boundaries by Louisianians.
     To prevent fishers and sheriffs from taking up arms against each other, resulted in each state agreeing to create separate commissions to solve the boundary disputes and to mark the stipulated water bodies.  However, since neither commission could agree with the other, they decided that their only recourse was a friendly suit.
     Three days of legal arguments were presented to the U.S. Supreme Court and the formal ruling was ultimately settled in Louisiana's favor.  A true boundary was established to be the deep water channel sailing line emerging from the most eastern mouth of Pearl River into Lake Borgne and extending through the northeast corner of Lake Borgne, north of Half Moon or Grand Island, thence east and south through Mississippi Sound, through South Pass between Cat Island and Isle a Pitre, to the Gulf of Mexico, as delineated in the 1898 geodetic map, which was made a part of the decree.
     By examining any current map, one can easily see that the imaginary line actually runs approximately due east and west paralleling the Mississippi Gulf Coast due south of Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, and due south of Gulfport.
     It seems unfair, but summed up, the ruling was based on the fact that Louisiana had become a State by Act of Congress five years earlier than Mississippi was granted statehood.  Thus, Congress had no authority to take-away lands once given to a state.
     —And it is for this reason that so many Gulf Coast fishers carry both Mississippi and Louisiana fishing licenses.  At sea, they sometimes don’t know when they crossed the line.

Click Map for larger image
The Blue Line is the Boundary
The above digest was extracted from a 65 page U.S. Supreme Court decision rendered during the October Term of 1905, and can be found in "Lighthouses and Islands" by Dan Ellis.

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