Permits to be required with new regulations
On January 18, 2019 the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to require paddle craft rental outfitters to obtain a permit from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency before operating on the State's waters. Regulations will also be attached to the permit, which has a term of one year and may not be renewed for failure to provide the information required with the application.
While no fees are attached to the regulations for now, Commissioners vowed to apply the fees later along with additional regulations. The approved regulations require all outfitters to report water rescues which require more than first aid, the number of rental boats in their fleets and launches. Parking at TWRA ramps will be regulated. TWRA will approve the orientation provided to customers, which is a concern since the agency has no experience with paddlesports.
The regulations have to be approved by the Tennessee General Assembly before they can be enacted. TPA is considering alternative legislation.
Fees and river specific regulations are expected to come later. The regulations are supported by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, which believes paddlers should be paying "impact fees".
The regulations come after legislation was pushed through the Tennessee General Assembly in 2018, authorizing the TWRA to regulate "all aspects" of paddle craft rental outfitters operations. The legislation exempted outfitters in or adjacent to the Cherokee National Forests and in state parks. College and university programs are also exempted by TWRA.
TWRA proposed extensive regulations in August 2018 at a TWRA Commission meeting. Following that meeting outfitters formed The Tennessee Paddlesports Access Coalition, which has since become the Tennessee Paddlesports Association. The goal was to modify the proposed regulations. TPA submitted comments to the TWRA, including legal analyses, and participation in an Advisory Committee.
Many outfitters thought the fees proposed in August would put them out of business. TPA's response generated more than 2,000 letters opposing the regulations, which were sent to members of the General Assembly, who expressed surprise at the extensive TWRA regulatory proposals. TWRA was attempting to collect fees at ramps and launch areas it did not own or manage, for example.
As growth in revenues from hunting and fishing license sales decline, many state fish and wildlife agencies are looking for non traditional sources of revenue. While TPA agreed to the permit fee and some reasonable fee for use of TWRA ramps, we do not believe paddlers should pay the agency to paddle the State's navigable waters. At the most recent Commission meeting, the Chairman also asked private boaters if they would be willing to pay fees as well. The hostility some Commissioners expressed toward paddlesports was alarming. One Commissioner even suggested TWRA investigate closing ramps to outfitters.
The Tennessee Paddlesports Association, an organization made up of many of the state's paddlecraft rental outfitters, has hired a lobbyist and law firm to assist with modifications to the legislation authorizing the regulations, which are unprecedented. We are also developing best practice guidelines to promote responsible, shared use of Tennessee waterways.