Jobs, tourism money, and tradition are all hanging on upcoming decisions by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Jobs, tourism money, and tradition are all hanging on upcoming decisions by the Tennessee Valley Authority. It manages the water levels on the tailwaters and helps fund stocking programs that push fish in our rivers.
Given the latest cut-back by the federal government on fish hatcheries programs, TVA stepped in to keep them running, but what happens when that short-term money runs out?
Samir Harb comes out to the Clinch River twice a week to cast a line.
"It's kind of become a passion of mine lately, and I feel like everyone I talked to.. it is something they automatically become obsessed with," said Harb.
He said it's a great place to get away from it all while getting the catch of the day.
"I am catching brown trout, brook trout, and rainbow trout," said Harb.
It's a hobby that draws thousands of visitors every year to the tailwaters, but the fish are plentiful because TVA stocks them every year.
Now, tighter budgets are threatening to put an end to stocking.
"Other government agencies, they have mandates and are given appropriations in order to make those things happen. They don't have to balance the issues quite the same way TVA does. So it makes it a little bit more of a challenge for us," said Joe Hoegland with TVA.
TVA agreed to pay for fish hatcheries for three years after US Fish and Wildlife made the cut.
The clock ticks closer as TVA now has two years to figure out a better option.
"What the trout really are for us is an opportunity for people to have more recreational opportunities, and frankly, for some of these smaller communities to have more economic development for all the tourists that come and visit," said Hoegland.
TVA reached out to the public and is listening to people with a stake in the decades old trout stocking program
"Trout fishing is somewhere around 60 to 70 percent of our business here," said co-owner of 3 Rivers Angler Jeremy Nelson.
They are listening to the options that others are floating.
"I do believe we would have a plan. Worst case, if we don't have a plan, and the hatcheries will close and the trout would no longer be available, but I think everybody that's involved wants to come up with a solution," said Hoegland.
It's not just decades of tradition at stake.
"It would probably eliminate this hobby for me. I would really hate to see the stocking be limited or be stopped all together," said Harb.
It's a resource that generates ten of thousands of dollars, hundreds of jobs, and helped identify East Tennessee as a prime destination for fishermen and their families.
TVA currently pays more than $900,000 a year just to stock the three local hatcheries. And it is funded entirely through their rate payers, rather than tax payers. So they want to watch what their rate payers' money goes into in the future.
TVA also spent $60,000,000 on upgrading the tailwaters, so they are a healthy habitat for trout and other fish.