DEM Red Tape Frustrates Paddlers

State permission must be obtained at least three weeks prior to an outing. (David Smith/ecoRI News)

State permission must be obtained at least three weeks prior to an outing. (David Smith/ecoRI News)

New rule requires permit when an outing features group of six or three boats

By DAVID SMITH/ecoRI News contributor

A new regulation in the Rhode Island fishing abstract for 2014 has caused some consternation among nonprofit groups that lead kayak trips on rivers and ponds, and promote the use of those waterways.

The rule requires that any organized group of six people and/or three boats is prohibited from going on a paddle without the permission of the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM). That permission must be obtained at least three weeks prior to the outing, and afterward a report must be filed stating who went on the outing.

The rule reads: “Any organized fishing and boating event, which is composed of a minimum of six persons and/or three boats, is prohibited from being conducted on any fresh waters of the state regardless of access, or methods of propulsion without the prior issuance of a written permit from the Department. An application for the initial issuance of a permit, which may include more than one event, or permit modification, must be submitted to the Department at a minimum of three weeks prior to the proposed date of the event. The permit application must include location, date time, and the numbers of persons and boats planned for the event(s).”

DEM says the permit is needed to determine the capacity of boat ramps, the water body, any competing users and the support facilities at the ramp such as parking and restrooms.

A major problem cited by the Rhode Island Rivers Council is that the regulation has a penalty if the event isn’t held and the state isn’t notified at least three weeks in advance. The rule reads that the group applying for the permit will not be allowed to paddle on rivers or ponds for at least a year.

Council members said that part of the regulation is a problem if a paddle is canceled because of bad weather. They noted predicting such weather events three weeks in advance is impossible.

Council member Walt Galloway said the new rule was “inappropriate” and “bizarre.” Council members also questioned why the regulation was in the fishing abstract. Jim Cole wondered why the regulation didn’t specifically say fishing events.

“I think it is ridiculous,” Cole said. “Small groups would have to know and get permission and plan far ahead of the event.”

While it seems the regulation would apply to a family or friends going out for a paddle if that group met the rule of six people or three boats, DEM officials say that isn’t the case.

DEM deputy chief Christine Dudley said the key word is “organized” events. While not defined in the regulation, she said organized activities would include fishing tournaments, Boy Scout troop activities and paddling groups such as the Rhode Island Canoe & Kayak Association.

In response to questions about the regulation, DEM Director Janet Coit said her agency will “look at the public benefit and see if it (the regulation) is working.” She noted that any changes to the regulation would take effect after an annual review of all the rules is complete. She said she welcomes feedback about such rules.

The deadline for making changes to the 2015 regulations, however, has passed. Workshops were held in April and a hearing in June. Dudley said the rule would stand for at least another year unless an emergency necessitated a change. The 2015 abstract will be printed in January.

The Rhode Island Rivers Council met Aug. 13, and at the urging of one of its members formed a subcommittee of Galloway and Cole to draft a recommendation to the state to change the regulation. Council members said that it appears the regulation is intended to address fishing tournaments and the ensuing clogging of fishing access areas. However, there is not a clear distinction.

The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association has obtained permits for recreation paddles it sponsors on various bodies of water. It also has received permission for paddles from the Arcadia Management Area.

Dudley said the organization doesn’t have to get a permit from Arcadia unless it impacts one of the areas inside the management area, such as parking. Otherwise, the one permit from DEM is sufficient, she said. Dudley admitted that the state does have permits that overlap and the agency needs to take a look at that problem.

The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic, Conn., sponsors paddle trips on the Wood and Pawcatuck rivers. The group’s executive director, Maggie Jones, that she was unaware of this new regulation.

“Because we don’t know about it we are unlikely to seek a permit,” said Jones, who added her group would take the chance.

Since the law is listed in Rhode Island’s fishing regulations, Jones said it seems counterintuitive to what her organization does.

The Rhode Island Canoe & Kayak Association hasn’t sought permits for any of its organized paddles.

The rule is in the fishing regulations, according to Dudley, because fishing access area development and maintenance is paid for with federal Sports Fish Restoration Funds. Those funds are generated by federal excise taxes on fishing equipment, motorboat and small-engine fuels, and import duties. The funds are then paid to the states based on a formula that includes land area and number of paid license holders. Rhode Island uses money generated by the sale of fishing and hunting fees, and trout stamps, to meet its matching grant requirement.

She also said the state has to do a better job of getting the word out about the regulation.

DEM says the regulation became necessary because some groups were trying to use the same fishing access on the same day and that created conflicts. The rule was later refined to add the cancelation penalty because some groups were booking fishing access areas just to reserve them and then canceling a day in advance, she said.

The permit includes placards for each car taking part in the organized event, so DEM enforcement officers can cite any other group that is in violation.

“We have a lot of latitude to look at each case individually,” Dudley said, “and can understand that paddling events might have to be canceled because of weather.”

She said scheduling events can help avoid conflicts, and hopes that even if there is a big event at a fishing access area there would still be room for a family to have access, too.