Share the Resource. Share the Responsibility.
On the most cherished rivers, commercial operators have come to dominate river traffic and many public access points. So much so that individual anglers and paddlers cannot freely use and enjoy our rivers. The increased traffic also creates more litter and huge wear and tear on these natural resources, degrading them for fish, wildlife, and future users. Additionally, there are no set guidelines to ensure renters’ safety, leading to more water rescues.
In Tennessee, commercial operators that rent paddlecraft—such as canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards—have become big business. Yet, most of these commercial operations are not required to help maintain the public river resources that they profit from.
Not all commercial operators are created equal. Some seek to be good stewards but others operate without regard to our water or wildlife, much less other users.
Without reasonable management that corrects bad actors and give guidelines to good ones, problems will get worse until the resources are no longer desirable to private users or the customers of these commercial operators. And the fish and wildlife that depend on our rivers will be left with low-quality habitat. These losses will take decades to recover and will destroy the economic opportunities that our rivers currently provide.
In 2018, Tennessee Wildlife Federation worked to develop and secure passage of a law that gives the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission the authority to create rules for these commercial operations. The Commission has developed a draft general permit process so commercial operators contribute financially to the resource, not unlike how fishermen and fishing guides do now through their license purchases.
Permits and fees for commercial operators are effectively used in other states and even parts of Tennessee. The commercial operators in these areas run thriving businesses that contribute to local economies. They also share in the benefits of having a better public resource, which helps attract new customers.
The permitting fees being developed can be used for the maintenance of river health and habitats, managing public access to the rivers, increasing law enforcement, establishing safety requirements, and more. Such management will enhance the rivers and the quality of the public’s experience on those rivers, boosting outdoor recreation, and local economies.