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Public Statements

Freedom to Fish Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WHITFIELD. Chairman Shuster, I want to thank you and Ranking Member Napolitano for agreeing to bring this important legislation to the floor. I will tell you, last September the Army Corps of Engineers made a decision that at the 10 dams located on the Cumberland River, they would put up a barrier of fishing near these dams in the tailwaters.

Despite opposition from the Governors of Tennessee and Kentucky, the Fish and Wildlife Services of Kentucky and Tennessee, Senator Alexander, Senator Corker, Congressman Jim Cooper, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, STEVE FINCHER, myself, Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell and others--we wrote letters to the Corps. We had public meetings with the Corps. We sent petitions to the Corps. We had phone calls with the Corps, and asked them to delay the implementation, primarily because of the sequestration and the amount of money that it would take to put these barriers up, which would be almost $3 million.

Despite our best efforts, and we had meetings at which 400 to 500 people attended, they refused to delay the implementation. So I rise today to support this Senate bill because it delays the implementation for 2 years.

I want to thank the gentlelady for bringing up the safety issue. All of us are very much concerned about the safety issue. But I would like to point out that in the 42 years of the history of these dams on the Cumberland River in Tennessee and Kentucky, there have been 881 drownings in the collective lakes and waters not including the area immediately around the dam. There have only been 14 drownings--and any drowning is too many--but in 42 years around the dam where they are focused on, there have been 14 drownings. I might say that of those 14 drownings, five of them occurred on the banks; two of them were of unknown causes; three were because people were not even wearing life jackets; three were because they were wearing the life jackets improperly; and only one drowning occurred in 42 years where the person was wearing the life jacket properly.

So I would say to the Corps, the real safety issue relates to the collective waters not around the dams. Of course, we all are very much concerned about protecting the homeland, homeland security, and I will tell you in these very rural areas of Tennessee and Kentucky where these dams are located, many people are out there fishing.


Mr. WHITFIELD. I thank the gentleman.

These are very rural areas. I will tell you that the Fish and Wildlife Service provides a great deal of protection and enforcement of broken laws in this area. Many of these people are quite familiar with each other, and I'm not going to be able to address the homeland security issue in detail, except to say that it is enforced. Many of the people who fish there through the fishing competitions and for the economic growth know each other.

But on the safety issue, I would just say 14 drownings in 42 years around the dam itself, 881 in other areas, and so we're not asking that this be a permanent restriction. We are simply asking the Corps to work with the Governors, the Fish and Wildlife Services of both States, the Senate and House, and local county judges to address it in a more permanent way.

So I would respectfully request that you approve the Senate bill, which would simply delay this for 2 years for additional study.

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