Report - Caney Fork Stakeholder's Meeting at TWRA

Brian D.Brian D. Senior MemberPosts: 4,011 Senior Member
I attended the Caney Fork Stakeholder's Meeting yesterday at TWRA Region III Headquarters. Here are my thoughts (and my thoughts only - I'm not speaking for anyone else here). Based on my notes, I think the general positions of the various parties expressed at the meeting could be broadly summarized as follows:

1. TWRA: According to the current survey, satisfaction levels on the river are extremely high, with 99% reporting that they are very satisfied with their experience. Nearly 80 percent of anglers report "never" or "very rarely" being bothered by paddler traffic. [bd's note - seriously???]. They observed few problems with alcohol on the river.

Another, much more in-depth survey will be conducted next year, which they hope will provide more detailed information.

That said, TWRA acknowledges that it can get crowded and that the potential exists for conflict. Right now, they are focused on shaping the "culture of the river." In other words, the only official action that will be taken for the foreseeable future will be "education and outreach." They want to teach anglers to respect paddlers, and paddlers to respect anglers. To address litter, they're going to have a bunch of mesh trash bags made with courtesy rules like "give anglers as much space as possible" printed on the side.

2. Commercial Paddling Operations and Recreational Paddlers. Representatives from three commercial operations were in attendance - an owner and marketing director from Canoe the Caney, Joel from Big Rock Market, and a man from another operation (I didn't catch the name).

Of them, Joel was very conscientious and seemed to go out of his way to be respectful to anglers. He talked about how long he's been in operation and how he sympathizes with anglers because he fishes too. He acknowledged the crowds, but noted that he's trying to make a living too. He noted that the problem has been made worse during the dam repairs because the best fishing has been in the upper 6 miles, which concentrates everyone on the same spot. He noted that he tells paddlers who use his business to steer clear of anglers, and he tells his employees that when they're loading and unloading, they need to give as much room to others as possible, even if they have to carry canoes up the ramps. He said if there are other things he can do to help reduce conflict with anglers, he hopes people will e-mail him or call his shop.

The man from the unnamed commercial operation was the most hostile to anglers. He said that commercial traffic peaks on the weekend, and if anglers want more peace and quiet on the river, they need to "pick another day" and go during the week. When I was speaking, I noted that angling dollars and effort support much of what the Caney has become, and he called out, "That's ridiculous!" In my opinion, he was pretty contemptuous in his speech and his general demeanor. [bd's note - I really wish I noted what company he owns. Anglers need to know the name. Anyone?]

The ladies from Canoe the Caney seemed somewhat oblivious to the issues. Their marketing director said until she came to the stakeholder's meeting, she had no idea that these conflicts were even an issue. [bd's note - holy crap]. They gave a long "tearjerker" presentation with slides and photos about a girl whose sister had been abducted, an elderly man in his declining years named "Papaw," and other folks who could never have a day enjoying the river if it wasn't for Canoe the Caney. Their talking point was "Twelve Days to Share" - i.e., they have twelve days that are the most busy each year (basically all the Saturdays in June, July, and August). They want anglers to share the river on those days so their customers like Papaw can enjoy the river too. They also asked anglers to stop and show their fish to their customers as they go by, so that maybe kids will be excited about fishing and grow up to enjoy the outdoors instead of getting sucked into "MTV and drugs." [bd's note - yes, she actually said this].

A gentleman from a private paddling organization spoke as well about the importance of maintaining access for all people, not just anglers. Permitting requirements in other states have restricted paddling access and they don't want the same thing to happen to the Caney.

3. Angling interests. Decent turnout among anglers - not as many as we had for the brown trout regs, but not bad. Chris Nischan (guide), Jim Mauries (Fly South), Ronnie Howard (Cumberland Transit), Jon Jordan (Hendersonville Fly Fishers), and a couple other anglers spoke (I missed a few names). Nischan emphasized lessening conflicts at access points, pointed out that large commercial canoe trailers left on the gravel bars block access and are a big problem. [bd's note - Canoe the Caney is the main offender here]. Mauries warned TWRA to do more about safety, because the combination of huge crowds of canoes and motorized boats on a foggy river is going to result in bad accidents one day.

Most of the rest of the comments stressed that angler dollars provide the vast majority of support for the river: including TWRA's law enforcement budget, purchase of the wildlife officers' boats, pressure on the Corps to improve water quality, improved access, signs, and other things. I told TWRA not to be complacent. This is a multimillion dollar fishery by TWRA's own estimate, and that's built predominantly by angling dollars. Meanwhile the value of that fishery is being adversely impacted by for-profit enterprises who don't pay their fair share. I said "culture of the river" doesn't cut it - there is a finite number of people who can use the resource at a given time before it's ruined for everybody, and TWRA needs to start thinking about how those interests are being prioritized. I suggested that those who paid to build it (anglers) should get priority interest - obviously the commercial enterprises didn't agree and the lady from Canoe the Caney stood back up to say so, more or less.

***

One more thought from me - the first thing I pointed out is that if they really thought they had a 99% satisfaction level on the river, they wouldn't be holding a stakeholder's meeting. But for right now, I do not think TWRA even remotely grasps the full seriousness of the problem here. If they think they've got 99% satisfaction, then they are not hearing enough from us. I'd encourage everyone here to give TWRA your input about the impact of for-profit enterprises on the river, and if you get the chance to participate in the surveys that evidently will be taken next year, make sure your voice is heard on this issue.

bd

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