Without recreational use management plans, large groups of paddlecraft rented from private companies too often make it so others cannot reasonably use public waters. Photo: Caney Fork River, September 2020

Share Our Rivers:
Reducing River Overcrowding

Commercial canoe and kayak rental services have grown quickly and continue to expand. Overcrowding on Tennessee’s rivers has reached a critical level and solutions are needed.

Heavy rental paddlecraft traffic too often drives individual users off rivers and leads to habitat damage. Basic rules for rental services and river-specific recreational use management plans protect the health and quality of our rivers, allowing everyone to enjoy and share our rivers.

Join the Share Our Rivers Coalition to be alerted to the latest efforts to promote fair use by all so our rivers provide unforgettable experiences for generations.

Sharing Access to a Public Resource

More and more, the Federation heard from anglers and private paddlers that commercial operators had come to practically dominate our most cherished rivers and public access points. Without basic rules, heavy traffic too often drives individual users off rivers and can lead to unnecessary damage to habitats. Meanwhile, the commercial operators had no rules requiring safe and fair operation.

Not all commercial operators are created equal. Some seek to be good stewards but others seemingly operate without regard to our water or wildlife, much less other users.

Tennessee Wildlife Federation developed and secured passage of a law to give the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission the authority to create rules for these commercial operators. Despite efforts by the industry to stop these basic rules, operators now must obtain a permit; meet certain safety standards, including safety briefings for renters; and document how many commercial trips they are generating on what portions of our rivers.

Today, the Federation is pressing for a process to create river-specific recreational use management plans. There are good examples nationwide of these plans successfully allowing all users to enjoy public waterways. But to move forward with a planning process, we need your help and voice in the Share Our Rivers Coalition.

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 $1.2 billion in economic output and supports 7,669 jobs in Tennessee.
  • 181,000+ commercially-guided trips are made on the Ocoee River each year. Fees make water management on the river possible.

More from the Federation about Share Our Rivers Coalition

tennessee fieldSusan Hay
kayak on Tennessee riverAdam Whitman
father and son fishing on a dock

Frequently Asked Questions

Beginning January 1, 2020, commercial paddlecraft rental services must:

  • obtain a permit;
  • meet certain safety standards, including safety briefings for renters;
  • and document how many commercial trips they are generating on what portions of our rivers.

No fees were included in the final rules but the Share Our Rivers Coalition is excited that TWRA will soon have the firm data needed to ensure our public resources are being enjoyed by everyone.

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.

Currently, there is no permitting fee. But if one is put into place in the future, we believe it 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.

No. This permit (there is no fee) will only be for commercial operators.

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 and provide accountability.

More Information