TWRA won't enforce ban on fishing below dams

Associated Press • May 5, 2013 at 6:57 PM

NASHVILLE — State and federal agencies are at odds as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presses ahead with a ban on fishing from boats both above and below Cumberland River watershed dams.

The Corps office in Nashville announced Tuesday it was banning fishing close to the dams as a safety matter. The announcement also said the federal agency was asking Tennessee and Kentucky wildlife agencies to enforce the ban on waterborne fishing in restricted areas.

But Ed Carter, executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, was quick to say TWRA would not enforce the restriction. The agency's officers enforce regulations on waterways in the state.

"If there is a lot of water pouring through the spill gates, we can understand restrictions on hazardous days," Carter said. "Otherwise, our boating accident reports indicate anglers have a good safety record below dams and we do not see a rational reason to prevent them from fishing there."

Kentucky wildlife officials are taking a similar approach.

Ron Brooks, the fisheries division director for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Services, said Wednesday that his agency doesn't have enough officers to routinely enforce a federal decision.

"The boating restrictions were set by the Corps, and therefore it is their responsibility to enforce them," Brooks said.

Brooks also said the state remained open to working with the federal agency on an agreement that would allow fishing below the dams when water conditions for fishing were tenable.

TWRA had asked the Corps to reconsider the blanket prohibition, which applies to 10 dams on the Cumberland and its tributaries in Tennessee and Kentucky. They include Barkley Dam, Center Hill Dam, Cheatham Dam, Cordell Hull Dam, Dale Hollow Dam, J. Percy Priest Dam, Laurel River Dam, Martins Ford Dam, Old Hickory Dam and Wolf Creek Dam.

Fishing from the shore or casting into the restricted area from boats outside the buoy line would still be allowed, the Corps said.

The Corps said that since 2009, there have been three fatalities and one serious injury in waters immediately downstream from the dams. The agency noted all three of the deaths involved victims who were wearing life preservers.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., blasted the decision and promised it would prompt Senate action.

"This is a waste of taxpayer dollars and an unreasonable interference with the right to fish below the dams the public owns," Alexander said.

On March 23, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution to the budget that would allow for Congress to pass legislation prohibiting the Corps' plan.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the decision will have tourism and economic consequences for his state.

"This plan demonstrates a complete disregard for the people affected most directly by the policy and is yet another example of this administration forcing burdensome regulations on communities rather than working with them to ensure safety," McConnell said.

Lee Roberts, a public affairs specialist with the Corps' office in Nashville, said Wednesday that the agency was beginning immediately to post signs and set warning buoys. Enforcement will begin later in the summer.

Roberts also said the Corps is not totally dependent upon state wildlife officers for enforcement.

"Corps park rangers do have federal citation authority," Roberts said.

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