Should trotlines be banned in Tennessee? Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute owner and Executive Director Scott Fisher believes they should not be allowed to span a river and is facing charges for cutting a trotline that he saw as a threat to the public.
A trotline is a heavy fishing line with baited hooks attached at intervals by means of branch lines, usually marked with floating jugs. With some exceptions they are illegal in Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming, among other states. In New Mexico and West Virginia, trotlines are restricted to certain areas. In Virginia, trotlines can only be used for non-game fish.
But in Tennessee fish may be taken with “one or more trotlines not having a combination of more than one hundred hooks, which trotline shall be attended at least once each day,” as per Tennessee Code 70-4-104. The lines may extend from one side of the river to the other, the situation Fisher encountered Memorial Day weekend when he and two other whitewater rescue experts were holding a kayak instructor certification class for four students.
One of the students was hooked in his life vest by a trotline just below the Chestoa Recreation Area near Erwin in Unicoi County. The student was the son of Robin Pope, one of the top five whitewater safety and rescue instructors in the country, who was serving as an instructor for the class.
“We went over and we saw that one of our students was disengaging himself from a thick line, black line, that you couldn’t see,” Fisher said. “And there was also an exposed fishhook that had made contact with his life jacket that he may have been briefly hooked by it, but in any case he was able to free himself from that, and we kind of took a look and we didn’t see any ... marking of any sort on it.”
Fisher said he assumed the line was abandoned, and due to the high volume of traffic on the river, cut it in order to keep anyone else from becoming ensnared.
“We did trace it to the left bank, and the line was attached to a limb that was sticking out over the river, probably a good 5 to 10 feet from the edge of the river, and then it was another 5 to 10 feet before it actually went underwater, and there was at least one exposed fishhook before it went underwater,” Fisher said. “So, again, we took a look, we cut it at that anchor point because we thought it was an abandoned line.”
Fisher said he then cut it from an anchor point in the middle of the river and then again on the other side of the bank.
After cutting the line, Fisher said he was approached by Anthony Silvers, the trotline’s owner. He said the group was blocked from leaving their access point, and law enforcement was called. Silvers said his trotline was properly marked and anchored to the bottom of the river. “No matter if every hook had a fish on it, there’s no way it could’ve come up out of the water,” Silvers said.
Fisher was indicted by a Unicoi County grand jury on charges of violation of the Hunter Protection Act and taking of a fish caught by another, both misdemeanors.
Some states ban trotlines because they can ensnare a swimmer or kayaker, promote overfishing, needlessly kill fish when they are not frequently checked or are abandoned, and are unsightly with floating jugs that look like trash. Said one opponent, “I’ve spent 35-plus years on the South Llano River (Texas) and I’ve been tangled up in trotlines more times than I care to remember as a swimmer and a boater.”
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