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TWRA Seeking Public Comments on 2014-15 Fishing Regs

Press release from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; August 26, 2013:

KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) Fisheries Division announced its proposed 2014-15 sport fish and commercial fishing regulation changes during the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission’s August meeting. TWRA Fisheries Division Chief Bobby Wilson made the proposals at the Aug. 22-23 meeting of the TFWC held in Knoxville.

The public is invited to provide comments on the 2014-15 proposals. The comment period for the commercial fishing regulations will be until Sept. 18. The deadline for the sport fishing comments is Oct. 10. Comments may be sent to TWRA.Comment@tn.gov, or TWRA, Fisheries Division, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204. Please include “2014 Fish Comments” on the subject line of emailed submissions.

The TFWC will vote on the commercial fishing proposals at its Sept. 19-20 meeting in Nashville. The sport fish regulations will be voted on the TFWC’s meeting to be held Oct. 17-18 in Kingsport. If approved, the changes would become effective March 1, 2014.

2014-15 Sport Fishing Proposals:

Statewide:

Crayfish: Proposal would establish the harvest of crayfish as food. Currently, crayfish may be taken from most waters except for those already restricted under the live bait proclamation.

Region I:

Kentucky Lake: Increase the minimum length on sauger from 14 to 15 inches.
Maples Creek and Brown’s Creek lakes: Decrease the minimum length limit on crappie from 10 to 8 inches.

Region II:

Woodhaven Lake (Montgomery Bell State Park): Remove the no harvest restriction on largemouth bass, allowing 5 bass per day with no length limit. (same as statewide)

Region III:

Caney Fork Watershed (Center Hill Reservoir, Great Falls Reservoir, Calfkiller, Collins, Caney Fork, and Rocky rivers): Increase the minimum length on muskellunge from 36 to 50 inches.

Big Lost, Goforth, Spring, Greasy, Tumbling, and Turtletown creeks (Polk County): All these creeks will be closed on Friday from March 1 through June 1 (previously July 1).
Cherokee Reservoir: Change the paddlefish snagging season from March 1-15 to April 1-15.

Fort Loudoun, Melton Hill, and Chilhowee reservoirs: Change walleye and sauger restrictions. Currently walleye and sauger have a 15-inch minimum length limit with a creel limit of 10 in combination. The new regulations will follow the statewide regulation for each species (walleye 5 per day, 16-inch length limit; sauger 10 per day, 15-inch minimum length limit).

Rocky Fork: Define the Wild Trout Regulation section as upstream of Rocky Fork Road and State Park Entrance Road Junction.

2014-15 Commercial Fishing Proposals:

Define and add Beech River to the Rivers Section that is open to commercial fishing. This area is currently open but the description is not clear.

Add “turtle traps” to the list of gears that will be allowed to be fished in the creeks and and embayments on Kentucky Lake in April and May.

List the 14 species of turtles are currently allowed to be harvested at the Reelfoot La

Delete the word “inlet” from the description of closed areas.

Define the season for turtle harvests as the months of March through October.

Change hoop net definition to allow for the use of hoop nets with a mesh size of 1 inch and larger and not allow the use of wings or leads. Also, there will no longer be a closed season on using hoop nets. In addition, restrict the mesh size on wings and leads to one inch or smaller for fyke nets, tap nets, and pound nets.

Senate Resolution Supports Boater Access to Water Above, Below TN Dams

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; March 8, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Legislation sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) expressing the Tennessee General Assembly’s desire to allow boater access to waters above and below 10 Tennessee dams is headed to the Senate floor on Monday night. Senate Joint Resolution 132 , which was approved by the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Environment Committee on Wednesday, urges the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to work with local communities and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency regarding alternative safety methods rather than banning the use of the waters to the public. The Dams include Barkley, Center Hill, Cheatham, Cordell Hull, Dale Hollow, J. Percy Priest, Laurel River, Martins Fork, Old Hickory, and Wolf Creek.

Beavers said the resolution compliments measures being taken by Governor Lamar Alexander and other state leaders to stop the Corps’ restrictions.

The Corp announced plans in December to restrict boat, swimming and wading access at various distances at the dams for reasons of public safety and to adhere to a policy adopted nationally in 1996. The project is expected to cost approximately $2 million.

Beavers’ resolution calls on the Corp of Engineers “to hold the current plan in abeyance until alternative plans are investigated that promote both boater safety and recognition of the outstanding fishing and tourism opportunity in these areas.”

“Fishermen have used these waters since these dams have been in existence,” said Senator Beavers. “This resolution just lets the Corps and our congressional delegation know that it is that the State of Tennessee, through their elected representatives, is asking them to reconsider these restrictions. The action to close the waters, which have some of the highest fish catch rates, would negatively impact fishing, recreation and tourism in my Senatorial district. It will have an economic impact on many citizens in the Middle Tennessee region.”

The resolution also claims the waters, “and the fish therein are publicly-owned resources held in trust by the State of Tennessee for the citizens.” It says the 1996 restrictions being implemented by the Corp are based on bank full conditions with major spillway gates open. This is done “without recognition for either the current economic conditions or more normal water flow levels,” the resolution continues. In addition, the resolution claims that historic safety data does not support the current proposal being implemented by the Nashville District for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restrict boat access.

“We have not seen data showing that the accident rate is higher in these waters than other waters,” added Beavers. “There has got to be a better way for the Corps to address safety concerns, whether it is targeting measures to the time during which the spillway gate is open or tougher enforcement of current boater safety laws.”

If passed, the resolution will be delivered to members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation and Corps of Engineers.

State Allows Anyone to Fish Without License on June 9

Press release from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; June 4, 2012:  

NASHVILLE — Tennessee’s annual Free Fishing Day is Saturday, June 9 when anyone may fish free without a license in the state’s public waters.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency provides the free day in hopes of increasing interest in fishing. The day allows anyone the opportunity to try this great outdoor sport, especially children. In addition, children ages 13-15 may fish without a license beginning on Free Fishing Day through the following Friday (June 15).

The day and week are annual events in Tennessee and are great opportunities to introduce children to the enjoyment and excitement of a day on the water catching fish. The TWRA is among several organizations planning special fishing events, primarily for youngsters. The TWRA annually provides several thousand pounds of fish for stocking for various events.

For a list of the events, click here. Anglers and potential anglers should check the events list often since special events are frequently added.

Free Fishing Day and Week apply to Tennessee’s public waters, TWRA owned and operated lakes, and state park facilities. Some privately owned pay lakes continue to charge during this special day and week. Anglers may consult with lake operators if there are any questions about a particular facility.

Voters to Decide if ‘Personal Right’ to Hunt & Fish is Reasonable

The term “reasonable” doesn’t appear in the U.S. or Tennessee Constitutions, except for proscriptions against the government carrying out “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

But the Tennessee Wildlife Federation — with the endorsement of all but three members of the state Legislature — wants to add that word, and 59 or so others, in the form of a constitutional amendment that would place hunting and fishing on the list of legally protected rights enjoyed by Tennesseans.

The amendment, which if passed would be added to the section of the Tennessee Constitution that grants state government the authority “to enact laws for the protection and preservation of game and fish,” reads as follows:

“The citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law. The recognition of this right does not abrogate any private or public property rights, nor does it limit the state’s power to regulate commercial activity. Traditional manners and means may be used to take non-threatened species.”

The process of getting the measure before voters has been years in the making. Conceived in 2004, the language has twice been approved by the General Assembly — most recently, this past legislative session — and must now attract “yes” votes from a majority of voters participating in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

Critics of the amendment suggest that a change to the Constitution is unnecessary and excessive.

Argues the state’s largest metropolitan newspaper, “a simple resolution would have sufficed to send the message that hunting and fishing is here to stay.” Furthermore, the use of the word “reasonable” is “vague and open to interpretation.” It could, for example, embolden litigious malcontents to challenge licensing and fee requirements placed upon sportsmen by the Tennessee Department of Fish and Wildlife and thus jeopardize “a crucial revenue source,” the Tennessean editorial board worries.

Those concerns, however, don’t appear to be shared by state government wildlife managers.

Nat Johnson, TWRA assistant executive director of staff operations, said the term “reasonable” sounds reasonable enough to officials and attorneys with the department, although he noted that the agency cannot by law take a formal stance of support or opposition on the measure.

Officials do, however, offer that they in no way see the language of the amendment as hindering “the responsibilities of the agency to set manner and means” for taking fish and wildlife, said Johnson, who also serves as TWRA’s legislative liaison to the Tennessee General Assembly.

“Legal staff has looked at this, and they have not seen it become an issue in any other states,” he said. “They haven’t seen that it provided any avenues for people to challenge a state’s ability to regulate and set reasonable rules and regulations.”

More than a dozen other states have guarantees of hunters’ rights written into their constitutions, and others are considering measures.

Tennessee Wildlife Federation CEO Michael Butler told TNReport his group consulted closely with state wildlife officials, constitutional attorneys and the chief legislative sponsors of the amendment, Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, and Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, to ensure that the amendment language enumerates the desired right without undermining state government fish and wildlife management authority.

“Most people already think they have a right to hunt and fish. So for most people, this amendment is just confirming what they already thought,” Butler said. “They can’t really imagine not being able to do it.”

However, the whole point of the amendment, he said, is to add a layer of legal defense against political activists and pressure groups that believe hunting and fishing not only aren’t “rights,” but probably shouldn’t even be tolerated by government.

Constitutionally speaking, “all it would take now to get rid of a hunting or fishing season is a vote by the Legislature,” Butler said.

Johnson confirmed that the department advised the wildlife federation on the amendment “almost since its inception.”

“We worked to achieve a comfort level that we thought everybody could live with,” he said.

Vanderbilt constitutional law professor James Blumstein noted that although the term “reasonable” isn’t one you’ll find in constitutional language, it “permeates our law.”

While a subjective interpretation might at times be “fairly debatable,” Blumstein said, judges generally approach it from the standpoint of asking if government has “a rational basis for doing something, and that it meets a reasonableness test.”

“There will be some deference to the regulation, but the regulations have to be reasonable,” he said. In situations where hunting rights conflict with public safety, private property or species management goals, Blumstein said he believes the amendment leaves the government “ample authority to regulate.”

“But what the government cannot do is to simply say we’re against hunting, on the grounds of policy, or that we think that is immoral or that it’s inappropriate in some way, and just have a flat-out ban,” Blumstein said. “Most rights in the Constitution are not absolute rights, and this is recognizing that the right to hunt may exist, but it is not absolute.”

Ramsey Supports Lifetime Sportsman Licenses

Press Release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville; April 6, 2010:

NASHVILLE — Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is an owner of a lifetime sportsman license in Tennessee and encourages all other sportsmen to follow suit. Lt. Gov. Ramsey visited with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency staff members as they were present at Legislative Plaza recently to promote 2010-11 hunting and fishing licenses to members of the House and Senate.

“The TWRA performs a great service by offering the lifetime license,” said Lt. Gov. Ramsey. “I am proud to own one and I recommend it to all my friends who hunt and fish.”

License sales provide the primary funding for the TWRA, which does not receive any funding from the state’s general fund (i.e. state sales tax). The TWRA relies on license sales as its primary source for funding for its management programs. Licenses are available at any Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) regional office, licensing agent, and on the TWRA Web site, www.tnwildlife.org. The licenses are valid through February 2011.

Right-to-Hunt-&-Fish Amendment Clears Last Hurdle Before Voters

A proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that protects citizens’ right to hunt and fish is headed to the voters.

After already being approved by the Senate, the House approved final passage of the proposed amendment, SJR30, on Thursday.

The language of the measure reads, “The citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law. The recognition of this right does not abrogate any private or public property rights, nor does it limit the state’s power to regulate commercial activity. Traditional manners and means may be used to take non-threatened species.”

The House sponsor of the resolution, Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, said the amendment is needed to prevent erosion of the rights before they are attacked.

“They didn’t think they had a problem in Great Britain and other European countries until it was politically popular to ban certain types of hunting, and then it was too late,” McCord said on the House floor. “This isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction to what occurred in some other countries. States such as Pennsylvania put these in their original constitutions when written.”

McCord said 12 other states have similar provisions in their state constitutions and at least eight other states are considering such a measure.

Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, questioned the need for the measure. “Your reference has been to what has happened in other countries. What has happened in Tennessee — what has happened in America — that has led you to seek this amendment?” she asked.

McCord acknowledged there doesn’t appear to be a current or immediate threat against people hunting and fishing. But nothing presently in the Tennessee Constitution prohibits lawmakers or political interests hostile to the harvest of fish and wild game from attempting to outlaw or unreasonably restrict the activities in the future, he said.

“There is currently not a problem with this, but what happened in other countries, when it became politically popular, it was too late to address the issue, and we are trying to address it now while it’s not a problem before it becomes a problem,” he said.

Turner said she is not against people who hunt or fish, but she said the issue could be resolved through state laws and regulations rather than a constitutional amendment.

“I just think that the Constitution is sacred, and those laws that we pass should reflect upon the uniqueness, the importance, of this,” she said. “My husband was an avid fisherman…but all he had to do was follow the rules and regulations of wherever he was. I just cannot understand why we would need a constitutional amendment. I’m talking about the sacredness of the Constitution.”

McCord said protecting those rights by constitutional amendment is the strongest way to protect hunting and fishing rights. “We all in this room assume we have that right (to hunt and fish), but we’re not guaranteed that right unless it’s by Constitution,” he said.

A change to the state Constitution must be approved by a two-thirds majority in each legislative chamber in two consecutive General Assemblies, and it then must be approved by the voters, while a change in state law takes approval by a simple majority of each chamber plus the governor’s signature and is not subject to the approval of the voters.

McCord added that the measure would not prevent state government from protecting any species deemed threatened.

“This does not take the ability for the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency to set reasonable regulations – their first goal is the protection of species, and they maintain that responsibility and right,” he said.

Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, said the push for the constitutional amendment was a preemptive strike against the Obama administration.

“I heard the whole scenario as to the rage that’s going across the country with this whole idea this present administration is moving to ban this right,” she said. “It’s alright if Tennessee wants to respond to every kind of allegation that’s out there, so eventually we’re not going to be able to even read the Constitution it’s going to be so long.”

McCord responded that the move to pass the proposed constitutional amendment began while George W. Bush was still president.

The final vote was 90-1.

Turner was the lone vote against the measure. Brown and Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga pushed the “present but not voting” button. Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, and Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, were present but did not vote.

Reps. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, Gary Moore, D-Joelton, Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, and John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, were excused from attending the floor session.

The vote in the Senate, which occurred in late January, was unanimous.