Public Comment Forces Paddling Restriction Changes

By DAVID SMITH/ecoRI News contributor

A Rhode Island regulation that required 10 or more kayakers and/or canoers paddling together to register their trip with the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has been removed from the 2016-17 fishing regulations.

The two sections that were in the 2015-16 fishing regulations were roundly criticized by several organizations at two public hearings this year. Some people argued that the regulations in the fishing rules were aimed at non-fishermen.

Permits would have to have been applied for within two weeks prior to the activity. The other section stipulated that the same permits would have been required for “organizational education activities” where there were 10 or more boats.

The regulations, however, still apply to fishing tournaments, where large numbers of boaters can clog an access area. DEM officials said the regulation was aimed at mitigating conflicts at access areas if two or more tournaments were scheduled for the same day.

DEM spokeswoman Gail Mastrati said the change was a result of the testimony “from various stakeholders.” “A considerable number did not feel they should have to get permits for organized groups of canoeists or kayakers at state fishing and boating access areas,” she said. “The department considered their request and changed the regulation to only apply to fishing tournaments.”

The regulations in the 2014-15 fishing regulations were even stricter and were changed after vocal opposition, but those changes weren’t enough, according to a number of paddling organizations.

Part of the regulation that irked organizations was stipulation that a cancellation of a paddle because of bad weather or low attendance would prohibit a group from applying for another permit for a year.