Brandon Archer was canoeing the Buffalo River with friends over Labor Day weekend three years ago when he jumped in for a swim and tragically drowned.
Archer had become entangled in a trotline, an unmanned fishing line studded with hooks that stretched across the river. The MTSU football player died a day before his 22nd birthday.
“When they found him, he was under 10 feet of water and they found a trotline wrapped around his ankle,” Courtney Archer, Brandon’s mother, told members of the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission on Thursday. “When I saw my son, I remember the marks on his ankle from the trotting line that was there.”
Archer, a Memphis resident, was among those who argued before the commission for stricter state regulations and safeguards for trolling, a traditional way of fishing — usually for catfish — that dates back to centuries. generations in some Tennessee families.
The commission oversees the work of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, a state entity that defends hunting and fishing, which funds – through the sale of licenses – a large part of its budget.
TWRA has resisted legislative changes that would more strictly regulate trotting fishing, frustrating kayak guides, water safety experts and paddler advocacy groups, who told commissioners that the explosion of interest in recreational rivers since the pandemic has made potentially dangerous encounters between trotlines and the passionate outdoors inevitable.
Tensions between paddlers and anglers have already begun to flare.
Last year in Unicoi County, the state’s top kayak safety expert spotted a college student entangled in a trotline on the Nolichucky River near Erwin, Tennessee. Scott Fisher, executive director of the Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute, cut the line as the student worked to lift one of the large hooks from the line of his life jacket. A confrontation with the owner of the line soon ensued.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has resisted legislative changes that would more strictly regulate trolling fishing, a method that uses unmanned fishing lines studded with hooks — which can ensnare kayakers, canoe paddlers and swimmers, sometimes with tragic results.
Fisher was arrested for misdemeanor violation of the Hunter Protection Act, which prohibits interference with legal hunting and fishing. A county judge this year dismissed the charge, saying cases like Fisher’s had no place in his courtroom.
On Thursday, several kayaking, river safety experts and a water safety expert from the US Coast Guard Auxiliary also appeared before the commission to argue for greater regulation of trotting fishing.
“We cannot allow a situation to continue where we have a regulation written in such a way that it literally allows an athlete to purposely create mortal danger to other athletes,” said Andrea White, regional chair of the southeast of the American Canoe Association. .
White and others looking for more safety rules proposed that trotlines be limited to running parallel to shorelines, instead of running perpendicular and across a stream or river. They also want rules requiring trotlines to be submerged at least three feet deep and contain floating markers — rules identical to those in the states bordering Tennessee.
There is no reliable data on how often paddlers, swimmers or others encounter trotting lines. TWRA only tracks boating incidents: There have been 69 reported boating incidents investigated by TWRA, including 44 fatalities, since 2011, according to data compiled by agency staff. None of them involved trotlines.
Archer noted that his son’s death was not among the 69 being tracked by TWRA. Her son was swimming, but not boating when he was trapped by the trotline, she said, and TWRA has not investigated his death.
On Thursday, fish and wildlife commissioners finally approved regulations requiring trotlines to be visibly marked, checked by their owners at least once every 24 hours and limited to three-quarters of a stream crossing.
They will consider tougher regulations when the commission meets again in January.
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