By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Thanks to federal legislation, fisherman can continue casting their lines and bait below dams at Lake Cumberland and Lake Barkley.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had planned to restrict access to the popular fisheries but Congress passed the Freedom to Fish Act, pushed by Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, and Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield and supported by most of the Kentucky Congressional delegation.
Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Deputy Commissioner Benjy Kinman told the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Environment Thursday that the ban took effect immediately, preventing planned “full-time” restrictions while a permanent solution to the Corps of Engineers’ concerns about safety is worked out, he explained.
Last year the Corps’ Nashville District announced it planned to restrict fishing above and below dams on the 688-mile long Cumberland River in Kentucky and Tennessee because of safety concerns.
Kinman said the Corps’ concern was likely prompted by litigation in Tennessee regarding safety and accidents below dams in that state.
He said when some or all of the gates are opened at the larger dams it can create a “reverse flow” and cause some boats to capsize.
But Kinman said Livingston County Judge/Executive Chris Lasher and Lyon County Judge Wade White in Kentucky brought the move to public attention and created the move to stop the Corps’ plans.
The Freedom to Fish Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier this week, places a two-year moratorium on restrictions.
“They are good partners with us,” Kinman said of the Corps of Engineers. “We just kind of agreed to disagree on this issue, and try to work it out. I think we’ve educated them now on the importance of the fisheries, and I think they’re going to work with us.”
Committee Chairman Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, thanked the federal delegation for securing the legislation and noted the efforts of Congressman Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, and state Sen. Chris Girdler, R-Somerset, on the issue. Girdler sponsored a resolution in the 2013 General Assembly opposing the Corps plans. .
“We appreciate the federal delegation, and Sen. Girdler, and so many people’s efforts to make sure we protect that,” Carpenter said.
The planned restrictions were scheduled to take effect this spring above and below the Corps of Engineers dams at four Kentucky lakes — Lake Barkley, Lake Cumberland/Wolf Creek Dam, Martins Fork Lake, and Laurel River Lake — although the greatest impact would have been below the dams at Lake Barkley and Lake Cumberland, Kinman explained
Fishing and boating below the dam at Lake Barkley alone contributes about $3 million to the economy, he said. Lake Barkley is a popular spot for fishing of striped bass, sauger, catfish, paddlefish, and other fish, while the area below Wolf Creek Dam on Lake Cumberland is popular with those fishing brown, rainbow, and brook trout, said Kinman.
The committee also heard reports on efforts by the Kentucky Division of Forestry and State Nature Preserves to deal with a number of invasive species of plants and insects which threaten Kentucky hardwoods and habitat.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.