The Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission is preparing for what is likely to be a controversial vote next week at its January 17-18 meeting. The regulatory body that oversees hunting, fishing and boating regulations in Tennessee will be voting on a new law that assigns strict regulations and fees to every Tennessee business that rents paddlecraft such as rafts, canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.
"This issue has generated more written comments than any other rule I've ever dealt with," said Chris Richardson, TWRA Asst. Director and Legislative Liaison. "I've received north of 2,000 written letters and e-mails from both sides."
The Tennessee State Legislature mandated that the TFWC create mandatory guidelines, assign fees and enforce new rules for commercial paddlecraft operators on public waterways. After a task force, including representatives from the industry, created proposed rules, Richardson filed the proposal with the Secretary of State's office in November and has been accepting public comments since.
Richardson said based on the thousands of public comments, the final draft presented for a vote next week (Jan. 18) will be revised from the original proposal.
"I can't say exactly what the final rule will look like," said Richardson. "We're still drafting it."
He said the greatest concern about the new rules on the opposition side was mostly surrounding the proposed fees, including proposed fees for public access at areas not owned by TWRA.
"There is some validity to that," said Richardson. That's certainly something we'll be modifying."
Richardson said, however, that the overwhelming majority of commenters on both sides of the issue did complain of congestion on many waterways and at access points.
Charlie Eich, owner of River Drifters Chattanooga said he knows of the regulatory plan and in general he supports it.
"Yes I do," said Eich. "I don't think just anybody should be able to put someone on the water for a dollar. I think adequate safety measures do need to be in place. We provide specific pre-trip training telling people they can't stop on private property. We'll provide trash bags and instruct people on how to act safely and appropriately. That why I support this, so that people who aren't doing that will be required to."
Eich added, however, that he is anxious to see what fees and specific regulations might come with the measure.
"We want to be careful to not negatively affect business owners," said Richardson, "We certainly don't want to put anyone out of business. We want to encourage folks to use our natural resources."
The Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association has posted its public comments on its website.
They said that, "Commercial Launch fees seem excessive." The organization also felt that violations should NOT be classified as a criminal Class C misdemeanor.
Richardson said the Agency has no choice in that based upon the law that was passed by the Legislature. He added, however, that based upon the burden of proof required, "The likelihood of a business owner being citing is basically zero."
Richardson said the Agency has already delayed the process to allow more study and discussion, but now they are under the gun to pass something to adhere to a mandatory timetable for the new rules to go into effect July 1, 2019.
TFWC Committee Meetings and discussion will be held beginning Thursday (Jan. 17) at 1 pm in Memphis at the Ducks Unlimited Headquarters. Final votes on any actions to be taken will take place Friday morning (Jan. 18).
Other TFWC Agenda Items
- Other items on the month’s agenda include a vote to increase boat registration fees.
- A vote to make the Tennessee "Native Sons" license permanent (That license allows people born in Tennessee to buy licenses at resident prices, even if they no longer live in Tennessee).
- An update on chronic wasting disease, testing results to date, and the recent public meeting held in Bolivar.
- A preview of waterfowl and migratory game bird hunting will be presented by Jamie Feddersen, migratory gamebird program leader. Season date changes will be discussed.
- There will be a presentation from Ducks Unlimited representative DU’s Dave Kostersky. He annually makes a visit to provide an update on the partnership and conditions in Canada.
- TWRA Fisheries Chief Frank Fiss will provide an overview of the rules and regulations for fish farming, catch-out operations and bait dealers.