Tag Archives: fishing

Fish hatchery pushed as use for surplus revenue

Rep. John Holsclaw, R-Elizabethton, says he’s hopeful part of the state’s surplus revenue will go toward building a state fish hatchery in Carter County, reports the Johnson City Press, noting the project “has been a political football bouncing around for several years.”

The lawmaker said the time to act on getting fish hatchery approved was now, pointing to a state budget surplus he said could be used on several projects.

He said one of the difficulties in getting legislative support for the hatchery has been its price tag. The cost of the state-of-the art facility has risen from $18 million to $24 million, thanks to inflation.

Holsclaw said that price tag has put a few legislators off, but noted the facility was originally proposed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to be more than a means of keeping some of the most popular streams in the state stocked. It was also intended to be a state-of-the-art facility that would also be a tourist attraction and an education center for students.

The article notes TWRA purchased 19 acres for the hatchery from the City of Elizabethton for $198,000 in 2009.

But the timing was terrible.

The state representative for the district, Kent Williams, had just incurred the wrath of Republicans who had been planning to take over the speakership of the House of the Representatives for the first time since the 1970s. They counted 50 votes to 49 for the Democrats, giving them the majority.

Those plans were dashed when Williams joined with Democrats to elect himself speaker.

In the aftermath, the Republican leadership was not eager to approve a fish hatchery in Williams’ district that would cost as much as $18 million.

Political pundits in Nashville wrote that “fish was the new pork.

…As bad as the timing was in 2009, Holsclaw says the timing was probably the best it could ever be this year. He said there is a budget surplus — and a governor who has expressed support for the project.

“I have been working hard on this,” Holsclaw said.

Judge dismisses lawsuit based on TN ‘right to hunt and fish’

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit contending that commercial fishermen’s rights under a 2010 amendment to the Tennessee constitution were violated by restrictions imposed on catching paddlefish in state lakes and streams.

The May 14 ruling by Davidson County Chancellor Russell T. Perkins is apparently the first judicial opinion interpreting Article XI, Section 13, of the state constitution, which declares Tennesseans have a “personal right to hunt and fish.”

The Tennessee Commercial Fishermen’s Association and the Tennessee Roe Fishermen’s Association had also challenged on other grounds paddlefish restrictions — including a complete ban in some areas — that were adopted in 2008 by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission, now known as the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission.

Perkins ruled for the commission and against the associations on each of the other claims as well. They included assertions that the Legislature had wrongfully delegated its authority to the commission, that the regulations were adopted contrary to requirements of the state’s Open Meetings Act and that one commission member had a conflict of interest.

Paddlefish, native to Tennessee, are commercially valuable both for their flesh and their eggs, which are processed as caviar. State fishery biologists say populations have been substantially reduced by overfishing in some areas.
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Columnist questions hunting/fishing fee increase after ammo tax windfall

Start of Frank Cagle’s column this week:

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency gets a dime for every box of ammunition sold in Tennessee. You may have heard that since Barack Obama has been president ammo makers have added third shifts to meet the demand as many gun owners have stockpiled the stuff and store shelves are often bare. This has meant a $9.5 million windfall for the TWRA, the agency that regulates hunting, fishing and wildlife management. That’s almost $10 million more than had been budgeted for this year, for a total of $31 million from the feds.

But that hasn’t prevented the agency from increasing the cost of buying a hunting license by almost 20 percent, from $27 to $33. That raises an additional $6 million for TWRA coffers. The extra $9.5 million windfall in ammo sales is half again more than the $6 million fee increase. And somebody needs to find out why they are getting only .09 percent interest on millions of dollars in trust funds.

The appointed commissioners who govern the agency can set license fees at will. They can be vetoed by the Government Operations Committees of the House and Senate, but it requires both committees to agree. The commissioners approved the increase in January, the first in 10 years, but it wasn’t until last week that the issue came before legislative committees. The House committee quickly rubber-stamped it, 7-1.

State Sen. Paul Bailey, a first-term Republican, raised some interesting questions on the Senate side. The federal ammo windfall and the millions of dollars in the TWRA reserve funds made him question why hunters were being asked to pay more. Unfortunately, when the House caved, the Senate vote became moot.

…Bailey pointed out that the TWRA has a reserve fund balance of $33 million in hunting and wildlife and $12.4 million for its boating programs. This money is available for agency operations. There is an additional $43 million in trust funds, and TWRA can use the interest from these funds — about $38,000 last year At less than 1 percent, that return is ridiculously low. That money ought to handled by the state treasurer, who is currently getting returns of over 6 percent. A decent return on the trust funds would be $2.5 million to $3 million in additional revenue, making half of the fee increase unnecessary.

It’s a problem when you have an agency essentially outside the state budget process that is allowed to keep millions in a piggy bank rather than responsibly invested.

Move to block higher hunting and fishing fees fails

An effort to block a 20 percent increase in the cost of state hunting and fishing licenses failed in a legislative committee last week, meaning the higher fees will take effect July 1, as approved earlier by the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission.

But members of the Joint Government Operations Committee left open the possibility of revisiting funding for Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency operations in future meetings or during next year’s legislative session.

State Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, made the motion to “stay” or block the fee increase, contending TWRA has $103 million in reserve funds and will be getting more money from the federal government than anticipated in the coming year.

Chris Richardson, legislative liaison for TWRA, said only two of the six reserve funds referenced can be used for agency general operations, the others earmarked by state law for specific purposes such as wetlands acquisition or boating safety programs.

The agency had to use $5 million from its operating reserves to balance last year’s budget, leaving about $32 million, and will have to use a similar amount this year, leaving about $27 million when the state fiscal year starts July 1, Richardson said. Almost $10 million will be needed to upgrade TWRA’s communications system and other equipment, leaving around $18 million, he said.

In effect, Richardson said TWRA is operating at a deficit, despite budget cuts, and needs the revenue from higher license fees to maintain the status quo.
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Lamar lines up $1M per year in TVA funding to keep fish hatcheries open

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander announced Monday a “permanent” funding fix for three regional trout hatcheries, including two in Tennessee, that calls for the Tennessee Valley Authority will reimburse the facilities $1 million annually to keep them in operation, reports the Johnson City Press.

Alexander helped broker a temporary deal in 2013 to ensure Tennessee’s national hatcheries — the Erwin site and the Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery in Celina — would receive funding through 2016.

TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson said from Erwin that the agency will pay the facilities in Erwin, Celina, and the Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery in Suches, Georgia, to provide trout for stocking in TVA lakes in Tennessee and Georgia.

The reimbursement will go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and be disbursed from there, and the money will support operations that provide trout stocking programs in 13 TVA tailwaters and reservoirs.

“Thanks to the TVA, the Erwin and Dale Hollow hatcheries will be remaining open permanently,” Alexander said in front of a crowd of more than 100 on a very warm day. “This is important to Unicoi County and Erwin. The hatchery is more than a building.

“It means one million trout will be released each year into Tennessee waters. It’s good news for fishermen and the businesses that serve them. Thanks to the TVA board, it was their decision.”

TWRA proposing 22 percent increase in hunting, fishing license fees

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is proposing increases in the cost of hunting and fishing licenses and related fees, averaging about 22 percent. The proposal comes up for a vote at a Jan. 15-16 meeting of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission at Union City.

The basic annual resident hunting and fishing combination license would increase from $28 to $34 under the proposal. The annual resident “sportsman’s license” – which covers all permits otherwise needed at different fees for activities ranging from big game hunting, trout fishing, duck hunting, wildlife management area admission, archery hunting and the like – would increase from $136 to $166.

In a news release (HERE) TWRA notes the increase is the first since 2005 (when there was a 35 percent increase) and the second in 25 years. It’s needed because the agency’s costs have increased even though it has been reducing staff and taking other economy measures.

Excerpt from the release:

“The reality is that managing our wildlife and fisheries has never been more expensive than it is today,” said TWRA Executive Director Ed Carter. “Our objective with this proposal is to spread the cost of these programs across more user groups who utilize Tennessee’s public lands and waters.”

…If approved, the new fee structure would go into effect on July 1, 2015. Tennessee hunting and fishing licenses expire on Feb. 28, and new licenses will be on sale at the current prices from mid-February through the end of June.

Highlights include: incremental increases for resident hunting and fishing licenses; elimination of certain short-term non-resident licenses; a new fee for professional hunting and fishing guides; new senior citizen license options; and fees related to the use of TWRA firing ranges, as well as for horseback, off-highway vehicle and mountain bike riders whose activities have a maintenance impact on state Wildlife Management Areas.

A full list of the existing old fees and the new proposed fees is HERE.

Lamar Alexander fishing report: No ‘restricted areas’ below dams for four years

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
WASHINGTON, May 20 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today announced that his plan to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from implementing “unreasonable restrictions” below dams on the Cumberland River is part of an agreement between the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives on the final version of the Water Resources Development Act.

The legislation would extend a ban on the Corps creating “restricted areas” beneath the dams from two years to four years. It also keeps Alexander’s permanent ban on the use of physical barriers beneath the dams, and the delegation of enforcement of safety regulations to state wildlife agencies in Tennessee and Kentucky in place – both provisions that were part of his “Freedom to Fish” legislation that became law in June of 2013.

“We don’t need Big Brother holding the hands of fishermen in Tennessee and Kentucky, and this legislation is a victory for generations who have enjoyed the right to fish below publicly owned dams on the Cumberland River,” Alexander said. “This legislation extends the ban on the Corps’ unreasonable plan to create restricted areas below these dams from two years to four years, and makes clear yet again that physical barriers and state enforcement of safety restrictions are the law of the land.”

Last year, both the House and Senate previously passed their own versions of the Water Resources Development Act. This legislation is the result of successful conference negotiations and is expected to become law after final passage by the House and Senate and a signature by the president. This legislation follows passage into law of Alexander’s “Freedom to Fish Act,” which he introduced with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The Water Resources Development Act extends the two year ban on restricted areas from two years to four. Previously, the Corps proceeded with its plan to restrict access to these tailwaters, despite the Senate’s unanimous support for an amendment to its budget resolution last year, as well as repeated requests for compromise from Alexander, numerous other elected officials, and the state agencies that enforce boater safety requirements.

‘What is the daily bag limit on drones?’

After a round of joking and some serious discussion, the House has given final legislative approval to a bill that would outlaw the use of drones to watch people who are “lawfully” hunting or fishing.

“I would absolutely love for a drone to come by me while I’m hunting,” declared Rep. David Alexander, R-Winchester. “They say you have to boil them a lot (for eating).”

“What is the daily bag limit on drones?,” asked Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, at another point in the House floor discussion of SB1777.

“It’s unlimited. They’re a nuisance,” replied the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma.

More seriously, Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, asked what Matheny what would be the legal situation if a drone being used by a landowner was shot by Alexander while he was hunting on adjoining property.

Matheny said that “would be a case between you and he” with a court decision probably pending on intent of the parties — whether the drone owner was “seeking to disrupt legal activity” and whether the shooter intended just to destroy property.

Dean asked if a landowner could send a drone out to check hunters on his own property, perhaps without permission. Matheny said that would be legally permissible.
The bill passed the House 87-0. It had earlier won 31-0 and now goes to the governor for his signature.

Lamar saves fish hatchery funding (for at least another month)

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today announced that the U.S. Department of Interior has decided it will not close any national fish hatcheries around the country in the next month as feared – including at Dale Hollow and Erwin – and that it will work on a long-term solution to keeping them open.

“I appreciate Interior Secretary Jewell heeding the concerns of Tennesseans and others around the country who depend upon these hatcheries to replace trout that are destroyed by federal locks and dams,” Alexander said. “Members of Congress spoke out, and the Department of the Interior responded. Now, the nearly 900,000 Tennesseans and visitors who buy fishing licenses in our state can once again have faith that Tennessee’s trout fishing will remain some of the best in the country.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been preparing a report, expected in the next month, on the mitigation fish hatchery program that fishing advocates feared would lead to closures of some hatcheries. On Sept. 11, the senator urged Jewell to support Tennessee’s national fish hatcheries, Dale Hollow and Erwin, and to delay any pending recommendations to close hatcheries.

Alexander received word this week from the Department of Interior that there will be no closures of national fish hatcheries in the next month, and that it had instructed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work with Congress, state wildlife agencies and fishing groups to discuss long-term solutions. The senator continued, “If federal locks and dams are going to destroy fish, then the federal government has a responsibility to replace them. I helped work out a deal with the Tennessee Valley Authority to keep hatcheries open for the next three years, and I’m glad the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is no longer looking to close them despite that progress.”

In May, Alexander announced that he had brokered a deal to keep open Tennessee’s hatcheries at Dale Hollow and Erwin. The three-year agreement between the Tennessee Valley Authority and federal and state wildlife agencies has TVA paying to keep the hatcheries producing fish after budget woes had threatened their ability to do so.

Lamar still angling for fishermen’s vote?

Sen. Lamar Alexander’s campaign commercials feature his efforts on behalf of the “freedom to fish” by successfully blocking a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to prohibit fishing immediately below dams. Now, he’s fighting efforts to curtail federal spending on fish hatcheries.

As the Elizabethton Star reports, “National fish hatcheries in Erwin and Dale Hollow have a friend in U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander.”

Here’s Alexander’s news release (belatedly; it was sent out last week):
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) urged Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to support Tennessee’s national fish hatcheries at Dale Hollow and Erwin today. He did so while also joining a letter with House and Senate colleagues representing mitigation fish hatcheries that called on Jewell to delay the implementation of recommendations in a pending U.S. Fish and Wildlife report that could jeopardize the future of mitigation hatcheries in Tennessee and around the country.

Alexander said, “These hatcheries provide broodstock that help make trout fishing in Tennessee some of the best in the country. The nearly 900,000 Tennesseans and visitors who buy fishing licenses each year depend upon these hatcheries to replace trout in Tennessee’s fisheries.”

“If federal locks and dams are going to destroy fish, then the federal government has a responsibility to replace them. That’s why it’s important to make sure Tennessee’s hatcheries remain open,” Alexander said. “I helped work out a deal with the Tennessee Valley Authority to keep the hatcheries producing fish for the next three years, and as part of its national review I hope the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take that into account.”

The letter, which Alexander joined with U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Senators John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), asked for a 60-day delay in the implementation of any recommendations for closure of any national fish hatcheries or other plans, so the public could review them.

“It is our understanding that this study is soon to be released, along with decisions about hatchery closures,” Alexander and his colleagues said in the letter. “We are gravely concerned that Congress has not been consulted on the matter.”

In May, Alexander announced that he had brokered a deal to keep open Tennessee’s hatcheries at Dale Hollow and Erwin. The three-year agreement between the Tennessee Valley Authority and federal and state wildlife agencies has TVA paying to keep the hatcheries producing fish after budget woes had threatened their ability to do so.