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TN Paddling Leaders Ask TWRA to Change Trotline Regulation for Safety

By Andrea White, ACA Tennessee State Director, Director of Marketing for NOLI

On October 22, 2021, I made a pilgrimage to West Tennessee to offer public comment in front of the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission about Tennessee's trotline regulations. I was not alone. Daniel Rogers, the President of the West Tennessee Canoe & Kayak Club, who is both a lifelong angler and a certified ACA River Kayaking instructor, and Scott Fisher joined me.

The Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission (TFWC) basically serves as the Board of Directors for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). On this day they were voting on the 2022 fishing regulations in preparation to print the new Fishing Guide in November. For any motion before Commission there is always a period when the Chairman solicits public comment from the gallery, which is when we expected to speak. Paddling leaders made a very conscious effort to approach the Commission as safety-minded advocates for our paddlers and our rivers with an expectation that while the Commissioners might have a different perspective, they would also be approaching the issue as responsibly minded sportsmen concerned about public safety.

TWRA Executive Director Bobby Wilson and Fish & Wildlife Commission Chairman Jim Ripley were very gracious to us and gave us time on the agenda to speak for 3-5 minutes each, but the Chairman did not allow us to speak before they voted on the fishing regulations. Bypassing the standard comment period for the fishing regulations, the Chairman took the vote, which passed unanimously, without allowing comment on the regulations before that vote was taken.

As a lifelong angler, Daniel led us off with an appeal to recognize the overlap between the paddling and fishing communities, the shared values around conservation and safety, and looking for ways our communities can work together to resolve user group conflicts. He also asked them to consider ways that the Tennessee trotline falls short of the regulations employed by neighboring states on several aspects related to safety.

Scott followed up with an appeal from the heart. He asked the Commissioners to envision kids on inner tubes floating down the river and what might have happened if a seven year old girl on an inner tube had gotten caught on that trotline instead of a professional first responder. He appealed to them to answer this call to change the regulation before there is another fatality recorded in Tennessee that is attributed to entanglement with a trotline. (Note: Brandon Archer drowned on the Buffalo River in Lobelville, TN in 2019 when his foot got caught in a trotline )

I closed out the paddlers' testimony, reminding the Commissioners of all of the bridges we have crossed between TWRA and the paddling community over the last several years and continuing to hold the door open for more of those opportunities. I appealed for their consideration that we need a channel to steer user group conflicts to de-escalate conflicts and find common ground solutions before situations escalate to the point of criminal charges or fatalities. In this moment, I asked them to take a first step by focusing on all the ways the current Tennessee trotline regulation -- as amended by the Fish & Wildlife Commissioners who came before them -- already acknowledges the dangers of trotlines in moving water and appealing to them to amend this regulation so that bank-to-bank trotlines across a navigable waterway will no longer be legal.

You can watch our testimony here. The section of the meeting where we appeared begins at the 37:30 mark and lasts for less than 15 minutes. TFWC Meeting 102221

Following our testimony, the Chairman directed Commissioner Tommy Woods of Piney Flats, TN, who chairs the Boating and Law Enforcement Committee, and Commissioner Kent Woods of Kodak, TN, who chairs the Fisheries Committee, to work together to gather recommendations for changes to the trotline regulation. After the meeting Director Wilson suggested that I can follow up directly with Fisheries Chief Frank Fiss and Colonel Darren Rider, who serves over Boating and Law Enforcement, to track the progress of this initiative. We were not given a timeline for next steps, but whatever recommendations are made will have to come to a vote before the full Commission. The next Commission meeting is scheduled for December 16 and 17 in Gatlinburg, TN.

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