Three Republican senators including Rand Paul went to bat for anglers over the weekend, hosting a Freedom to Fish rally in Kentucky to save fishing on the scenic Cumberland River, where the government is erecting $2.6 million in safety barriers and imposing a total fishing ban.
Paul, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander gathered to demand that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers withdraw its ban on fishing in the tailwaters of 10 dams along the river. The corps said the waters are dangerous but the lawmakers said the danger occurs only when water spills through dam gates, which is about 20 percent of the time.
It was a rare and powerful show of force for anglers and comes as hunters are facing new restrictions in the gun control debate.
The trio met to draw attention to a budget amendment sponsored by Alexander, McConnell, Paul and Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker to block the corps from implementing fishing restrictions. Alexander's Freedom to Fish amendment passed the Senate last month.
"This amendment sends a clear message to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it should stop wasting $2.6 million in taxpayer money enforcing these unnecessary and unreasonable fishing restrictions," Alexander said.
He said that instead of a 24/7 fishing ban, the corps should suspend fishing only when dams release water. And instead of spending $2.6 million on barriers, the corps should use signs, sirens and lights to warn anglers of the danger.
"Closing off the tailwaters 100 percent of the time would be like keeping the gate down at the railroad crossing 100 percent of the time. The track isn't dangerous when the train isn't coming, and the tailwaters aren't dangerous when the water isn't spilling through the dam," said Alexander.