Public Hearing March 30 for New R.I. Paddling Rules

By DAVID SMITH/ecoRI News contributor

PROVIDENCE — A public hearing has been scheduled by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) regarding a change to a fishing rule that was designed to regulate boaters’ use of access points on rivers and ponds.

The hearing will be held March 30, at 7 p.m. in Room 300 at DEM headquarters, 235 Promenade St. The hearing is for the proposed change, and for all fishing regulations for the 2015-16 season.

The 3-year-old rule has been criticized by several groups, including the Rhode Island Rivers Council, the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association and the Rhode Island Canoe & Kayak Association.

The rule currently requires that any organized group of at least six people and/or three boats is prohibited from going on a paddle without DEM permission. 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.

Opponents believe there is no distinction between organized paddles and several friends who decide on a nice weekend to head out on Rhode Island waters. It seemed that without that distinction, that group of friends would need DEM permission or be in violation.

The proposed new rule would distinguish between weekend paddlers and organized paddle groups. It also would increase the number that would trigger a permit to 10 or more boats. Permission would have to be sought two weeks prior to the event, rather than three.

According to the proposed changes, a “Special Use Permit from the RIDEM Division of Fish and Wildlife is required for Organizational Group Activities.” An organizational group is defined “as an Organization which has an administrative purpose and functional structure and is comprised of participants who are members, guests or affiliates.”

Written comments concerning the proposed regulations may be submitted to DEM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, 227 Great Neck Road, West Kingston, RI 02892 no later than noon on March 30.

The fishing guide is published by the state annually and distributed with fishing licenses. Licenses for the 2015-16 season are now available.