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NOLI owner charged after cutting trotline in May

Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute owner and Executive Director Scott Fisher is facing charges after cutting a fisherman’s trotline over Memorial Day weekend.

Fisher was indicted by a Unicoi County grand jury on Sept. 10 on charges of violation of the Hunter Protection Act and taking of a fish caught by another charge. Fisher turned himself in at the Unicoi County Jail on Sept. 22, where he was booked and released.

Fisher said Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency Agent Bethany Watson and Unicoi County Assistant District Attorney General Todd Hull originally told him there was not enough evidence to charge him with a crime after the incident took place.

“A few weeks ago, I got a call from Bethany, the TWRA agent, who said that the DA a couple weeks after, this is going back to June, had contacted her and asked her to bring her case file back to his office, which she did, and then a couple weeks after that (he) informed her that it was going to the grand jury, Sept. 10 I believe, for a decision on whether to prosecute,” Fisher said.

According to the TWRA, trotlines “consist of a main line with drop lines to which single hooks are attached.” In Tennessee, it is legal for trotlines to extend from one side of the riverbank to the other and they must be marked with the fisherman’s name and address or TWRA identification number.

According to Fisher, he and two other whitewater rescue experts were holding a kayak instructor certification class for four students when a student was hooked in his life vest by the trotline just below the Chestoa Recreation Area. The student was the son of Robin Pope, who is one of the top five whitewater safety and rescue instructors in the country. Pope was serving as an instructor for the class.

“We went over and we saw that one of our students was disengaging himself from a thick line, black line, that you couldn’t see,” Fisher said. “And there was also an exposed fishhook that had made contact with his life jacket that he may have been briefly hooked by it, but in any case he was able to free himself from that and we kind of took a look and we didn’t see any, there was no labeling, there was no marking of any sort on it.”

Fisher said he assumed the line was abandoned and, due to the high volume of traffic on the river, cut it in order to keep anyone else from becoming ensnared.

“We did trace it to the left bank and the line was attached to a limb that was sticking out over the river, probably a good 5 to 10 feet from the edge of the river, and then it was another 5 to 10 feet before it actually went underwater and there was at least one exposed fish hook before it went underwater,” Fisher said. “So, again, we took a look, we cut it at that anchor point because we thought it was an abandoned line.”

Fisher said he then cut it from an anchor point in the middle of the river and then again on the other side of the bank. After cutting the line, he said he was approached by Anthony “A.J.” Silvers, the trotline’s owner. Silvers recorded the confrontation between the two and posted the video to Facebook where it has been viewed over 39,000 times.

“We stayed calm the whole time,” Fisher said. “We didn’t get in a big argument about it but we did address our concerns. He couldn’t see it, refused to see it that way. We paddled on.”

Following the encounter, Fisher said Silvers’ father blocked the kayakers from leaving at the river access point and law enforcement was called to defuse the situation.

Silvers, however, said his father never blocked Fisher and his group from leaving the area, and said his trotline was properly marked with the identifying information. Silvers also said he and his fishing partners had taken extra precautions to ensure the trotline was anchored to the bottom of the river.

“No matter if every hook had a fish on it, there’s no way it could’ve come up out of the water,” Silvers said.

Silvers said it took him and two friends hours to make the trotline that he was using to catch catfish for a fish fry. He said the only part of the line that could be salvaged after the incident was the hooks.

Silvers also said rafters cutting trotlines has been an issue for years, and that he has had five lines cut just this year alone.

“I think the reason that they go by and cut it is because they come out of North Carolina, and in North Carolina it’s illegal to set trotlines all the way across the river, but when you get in Tennessee it’s legal and you can do that,” said Eli Nelson, who helped Silvers make the trotline and was with him when it was cut.

Fisher, however, said this is the first incident he has ever had with a trotline, and that there have been no issues between him and local fishermen before.

“I don’t have an issue with fishermen,” Fisher said. “I have friends who are fishermen. I see them out on the river, I wave to them, give them a wide berth, it’s all good. We’re all out there enjoying the outdoors and it’s all good. The issue is with a line stretched across a navigable waterway with exposed fish hooks that can hook a kid, an adult, it doesn’t matter. There’s no place for that. Especially an unmarked line that can’t be seen.”

Fisher’s court date is set for Nov. 30. Both charges are class C misdemeanors.FOR THE LATEST BREAKING NEWS AND UPDATES, DOWNLOAD THE JOHNSON CITY PRESS APP.

As outdoor tourism grows, communication key for avoiding conflict

A quarrel on the Nolichucky River between the owner of a prominent recreation company and a local fisherman has underlined a key issue as the region leverages its outdoor amenities to grow its economy: How do tourism officials balance the needs of residents with businesses attracting visitors to the region?

Brenda Whitson, executive director of the Johnson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it’s important to pull together groups representing people like kayakers and fishermen so they can communicate about how to handle potential issues before they arise.

“I think that’s the key to all of this is to get people to talk so there is an understanding,” she said. “Maybe it’s not something written in a law but it’s kind of that gentleman’s agreement of respecting the other user groups.”

As local leaders promote outdoor recreation, Whitson said, organizations like the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association and Visit Johnson City could act as bridge builders, facilitating meetings between organizations that serve different outdoor enthusiasts.

“We’ve got to find ways for all of us to coexist,” she said.

Alicia Phelps, executive director of the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association, called the situation unfortunate “for both visitors and the locals” and said “not exercising responsible recreation can obviously result in a dangerous situation for any user, no matter how harmless an individual thinks their actions may be.”

Phelps called it vital that people have the proper education on how to participate in outdoor activities safely.

“One thing I think both locals and visitors can both agree on is they would never want to see someone become injured due to negligence,” Phelps said. “It is vital that proper education on how to partake in outdoor activities safely and respectfully of other users is given top priority to anyone, whether they are a resident or a visitor.

“We are all big fans of Northeast Tennessee, so the opportunity to share in those experiences is important to the continued growth and success of the region.”

NeTREP CEO Mitch Miller said officials assembled nature-lovers from many different backgrounds when they were putting together an outdoor master plan for the region, which will help serve as a blueprint for the growth and protection of the local outdoor economy.

They talked about the importance of protecting existing outdoor assets, Miller said, but the planning process also served as an opportunity for many of those people to simply get to know each other.

“We’ve got to appreciate what we have but also respect each other,” he said.

Gov. Lee unveils new license plate design

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday unveiled the state’s next standard license plate chosen by Tennesseans through a statewide vote.

“In our 225th year of statehood, we invited Tennesseans to cast their vote and help select the state’s next license plate,” Lee said. “I’m proud to announce the winning design that will represent our unique grand divisions and take its place in Tennessee history.”

More than 300,000 Tennessee residents cast a vote, with 42% voting for the winning design.

New plates will be available online and in-person beginning Jan. 3, 2022, as residents complete their annual tag renewal. Up to 100,000 plates per week will be produced to meet initial inventory demands.

Per Tennessee statute, the plate is redesigned every eight years if funds are approved in the General Assembly’s annual budget. Statute also requires the display of “Tennessee,” “Volunteer State” and “TNvacation.com” on the plate, as well as county name and expiration year decal locations. Statute provides that Tennesseans may select an “In God We Trust” plate option.

This new license plate design will replace the current plate that launched in 2006 with modifications in 2011, 2016 and 2017.

Chef Keith Yonker with The Angry Italian’s signature Chicago deep dish pizza.


Johnson City CVB executive director receives national leadership recognition

County commissioners to debate Biden's COVID vaccine mandate

Washington County commissioners are set to join the debate on President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

The county’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee will discuss a possible resolution voicing opposition to the president’s directive when it meets on Thursday.

Wash-ington County Mayor Joe Grandy raised the vaccination issue at the commission’s monthly meeting last week. Grandy said he and other county mayors from across Tennessee have drafted a letter to Gov. Bill Lee and state Attorney General Herbert Slatery expressing their objections to the president’s COVID vaccination directive.

“We are adamantly opposed to any vaccine mandate,” Grandy said.

The mayor added that if commissioners wanted to “weigh in” with a resolution voicing their objection to the vaccination mandate, it would “certainly add additional support” for those opposing the president’s actions.

Biden announced in early September that he is pushing pandemic regulations that mandate all businesses with more than 100 workers to require their employees be vaccinated for COVID or test for the virus weekly. Officials say the measure will impact about 80 million Americans.

The federal government is also requiring another 17 million workers at health care facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funds to also be fully vaccinated.

Biden has also signed an executive order requiring all employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government to be fully vaccinated against COVID.

Opposition to the president’s vaccination mandate has become a key talking point for Republican officeholders from the courthouse to the statehouse. Lee has joined the Republican governors of 26 other states in vowing to fight the Biden directive on vaccines.

Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, has asked the governor to call a special session of the General Assembly so state lawmakers can address facemask mandates in schools and decide if businesses should be protected from lawsuits filed by employees who are opposed to COVID vaccination mandates.

During the Washington County Commission’s meeting on Sept. 27, Commissioner Robbie Tester requested the vaccine mandate issue be placed on the HEW committee’s next agenda. Tester told his colleagues he had “received quite a few emails from folks opposed” to such a mandate.

Commissioner Jodi Jones, who chairs the HEW committee, said she was “happy” to put the item on the panel’s October agenda.

“I would just caution you that those emails are being auto generated,” Jones said. “In responding to constituents, I’ve encountered some people who had these emails sent without their permission. We need to be a little thoughtful about making decisions based on constituent emails, particularly when they all look the same.”


Venable and Joe Grandy


Robbie Tester