Tennessee agency declines to regulate trotlines, despite allegations of danger

By: - January 13, 2023 6:00 am
Anchor and thin fishing line tied to a branch for an underwater trotline. (Getty Images)

Anchor and thin fishing line tied to a branch for an underwater trotline. (Getty Images)

The Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission on Thursday declined to take further action to regulate trotlines, an unmanned method of fishing that some recreation groups say poses a danger to kayakers, canoers and swimmers on Tennessee’s increasingly crowded waterways. 

A coalition of groups led by the American Canoe Association has been pressing the commission to impose more rules on trotline fishing. It’s a style of fishing that entails stretching a line studded with hooks across streams and rivers, primarily to ensnare catfish.

The lines can also ensnare unsuspecting people out on the water, Ande Demetriou, owner of Blues City Kayaks in Memphis, told commissioners Wednesday, in pressing for more stringent regulation that is similar to the states surrounding Tennessee.  

“There are enough natural dangers in rivers that we have to avoid that we don’t need to be adding things that one outdoorsman is doing that endangers other outdoorsman,” Demetriou said. 

David McKee, a certified kayaking and river rescue instructor whose statement was read aloud at the meeting, noted he had spotted more than 40 unmonitored and untagged trotlines in a three mile stretch of the Duck River in August. 

“These archaic forms of unmonitored fishing are endangering human lives as well as the balance of fish life that is not the intended target,” he said. 

Last month, after hearing impassioned pleas from multiple kayaking, river safety experts, including a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary water safety expert, the commission did enact new rules that require trotlines be visibly marked, checked by their owners at least once every 24 hours and limited to stretch three-quarters of the way across a stream.

They also tasked the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency with conducting research about how adjoining states regulate trotlines and how many injuries or deaths were associated with their use. 

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Fisheries Chief Mark Thurman told commissioners Wednesday that research had not turned up any evidence of injuries or deaths as a result of trotlines in other states.  

“It is the agency’s opinion that our regulations are in a good place, and we recommend no change be made,” Thurman said. 

Paddling groups disagree.

They continue to press for a series of new regulations, so that no trotline may be placed in a way that is a hazard to boating or public safety. They are seeking rules requiring trotlines to have floating colored markers at each end, and at intervals of every 25 hooks – as required in North and South Carolina, and Georgia. 

They also recommended the lines  run parallel to shores, instead of across them and that trotlines be submerged at least 3 feet below the surface, as four neighboring states require.

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.