Share Our Rivers Coalition

Photo by Patrick Lewis

Share Our Rivers Coalition:

Commercial Boat Rentals

Commercial canoe and kayak rental services have grown quickly and without guidelines. They dominate several public waterways and displace other users but don’t help pay for the public resource they profit from.

On our most popular rivers, there are increases in water rescues, unsafe practices, litter, bad behavior, and conflicts with other citizens using the river. Meanwhile, individual anglers and paddlers are crowded out of these public water resources. Reasonable guidelines are needed so commercial operators contribute to maintenance and everyone can Share Our Rivers.

Take a moment to email your state legislators and key cabinet officials to show your support of policies that will help preserve public access to Tennessee’s waterways and get commercial users to contribute to maintaining these public resources.

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 is currently developing a 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.

In the News

Quick Facts

  • Tennessee’s 1.25 million anglers support wildlife conservation through license fees and special taxes. Crowding anglers off rivers could reduce critical funding.
  • Fishing generates $2.1 billion in economic output and supports 17,541 jobs in Tennessee.
  • 181,000+ commercially-guided trips are made on the Ocoee River each year. Fees make water management on the river possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there examples of permits other places?

Yes. In Tennessee, permits are issued to commercial operations conducting business within the Ocoee River management zone. Here is the current Tennessee Code for those permits.

Various regions throughout the country have enacted similar permitting with great success—conserving the public resource, restoring access for individual users, and allowing commercial operations to continue to thrive.

Will the fee be the same for all commercial operators? Won’t this hurt small, local businesses?

We believe the permitting fees should be scalable. For example, in the Ocoee River management zone, permitting fees are equal to 10 percent of the annual gross revenue of the commercial operation. This ensures no business carries an unfair share of the burden. Operators in this zone, and others like it, continue to run healthy businesses.

Will private citizens have to pay to access the river?

No. Private citizens will still be able to access and use the rivers. This permit and associated fee will only be for commercial operators. In fact, if commercial liveries are required to obtain permits, private citizens may find improved access to the rivers, as well as safer, more enjoyable experiences.

Currently, anglers and fishing guides are the primary funders of river management and maintenance, through their licensing fees.

How will vessel requirements benefit river users?

Under the new rules, commercial canoe and kayak rental companies will be required to mark watercraft as commercial vessels. This will make it easier to track river traffic. Additionally, when illegal activity takes place on the river, the perpetrators can be more easily identified and pursued through the livery records.