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TWRA enters Corps dam-fishing controversy
Dec 12, 2012 12:00 am
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has added its voice to growing opposition of a Corps of Engineers proposed ban on boating immediately below dams.
Such a ban would prohibit fisherman from access to water immediately below Corps dams on such popular Middle Tennessee sites as Old Hickory, Percy Priest, Cheatham and Cordell Hull.
The Corps is considering banning all boats immediately above or below the dams during periods of generation because of safety concerns.
However, it is during generation periods that the fishing is its best, especially for such species as rockfish, hybrids, white bass and sauger.
Bobby Wilson, TWRA Chief of Fisheries, recently sent a letter to the Corps of Engineers protesting the proposed ban.
“A decision to restrict access will annually eliminate thousands of trips made by sport anglers and commercial fishing guides,” Wilson said. “We strongly urge you to consider other alternatives and seek public comment as you move forward on this question.”
The TWRA has certain law-enforcement powers on Corps waters, such as enforcing life-jacket requirements and other boating-safety rules, and checking anglers to make sure they have proper licenses and are obeying creel and size limits.
But the Corps has jurisdiction over many other regulations, including – perhaps -- how close to the dam boaters can draw.
Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander has entered the fray, telling the Corps to back off.
Alexander’s letter to the Corps reads: “I am writing to express my concerns about your decision to restrict fishing areas in dam tailwaters on the Cumberland River system and recommend that your reconsider that decision.”
As to the Corps’ concern about boating safety, Alexander said: “It is my understanding that the current practice has not resulted in a significantly higher risk to public safety than is experienced at other dams across the country.”
So far the Corps has not responded to the objections of the TWRA and Alexander.
Taking a boat immediately below a dam during periods of generation can undoubtedly be hazardous, especially for small craft. Signs are posted on both sides of the rivers warning boaters that they are entering turbulent waters, and that wearing a life jacket is mandatory.
Bill Bethel is among the state’s numerous commercial fishing guides whose livelihood would be impacted by the ban, and who adamantly opposes it.
“My clients expect to catch fish, and I need to be able to take them the fish are,” he says.
“I’ve fished below Old Hickory and Cheatham Dams for decades and never had an accident or a problem or any kind,” he adds.
“It’s like everything else in life -- you have to be careful, use common sense, and take some personable responsibility. Wading a trout stream can be dangerous too, if you’re not careful and don’t watch what you’re doing. But even though it can be dangerous, the Corps hasn’t suggested closing access to trout streams.”
Bethel has sent a letter to the Corps regional office, stating his position: “The ban is a terrible idea and the Corps needs to drop it.”