Fish and Game Commission teleconference that descended into chaos rescheduled for April 15

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After a teleconference meeting that descended into chaos on April 9, the California Fish and Game Commission has rescheduled to April 15, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. the emergency agenda item to consider a regulation that allows the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to “suspend, delay, or restrict sport/recreational fishing in specific areas within the state due to public health concerns relating to COVID-19.” This regulation would automatically expire May 31, 2020.

“The regulation allows for a temporary, adaptive approach to delay or restrict sport fishing based on local government and tribal needs and requests to protect public health and safety from the spread of COVID-19,” said Melissa Miller-Henson, Executive Director of the Commission. “The regulation itself would not implement any restrictions, but would allow for a tailored approach based on state, federal, tribal and local public health and safety needs and guidance. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has received requests from certain counties, which can be found in the materials at the link below.”

The relevant documents previously posted for this item are available at http://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=178208&inline.

On last Thursday, I tried to join the now infamous on-line emergency teleconference of the California Fish and Game Commission, but this reporter, along with many others, wasn’t able to get on the call or webinar.

The Commission was scheduled remotely to discuss delegating temporary authority to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to “delay, suspend or restrict sport or recreational fishing if the CDFW director, in consultation with the president of the commission, finds that such action is necessary to protect against the threat from COVID-19 based on state, federal, local and tribal public health guidance and public safety needs”.

The request by CDFW Director Chuck Bonham takes place at a time when a number of county officials, such as those in Mono and Inyo Counties, are concerned that travelers going to fish for trout and other species will spread the virus to rural communities

Many folks were never able to access the meeting either by accessing the webinar link or the call in numbers. The meeting descended into chaos and was postponed because of technical difficulties, according to those who were able to log on to the meeting. You can hear the Sacramento Bee recording of the meeting here: https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article241897916.html

James Stone, President of the Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Associaton, said 661 people called in to this call.

“It’s a cluster,” said Stone on the association’s Facebook page. “No-one can join and lots of error. Too many people have called in and commissioners can’t call in! Rude people.”

Lots of disrespect. MEETING CANCELLED!!”

Reporter Ryan Sabalow also described the chaos that erupted during the meeting in his article in the Sacramento Bee:

“The California Fish and Game Commission abruptly canceled a teleconference Thursday morning amid cries of ‘make fishing great again!’ and ‘fascists!’ before it could consider authorizing a limited ban on sportfishing in some areas.

Earlier this week, a group of conservative politicians, sheriffs and media outlets told their followers that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration was planning to outright cancel the fishing season statewide because of COVID-19.

Some rural communities fear too many out-of-town anglers would import the new coronavirus and infect residents. About 1 million licensed anglers regularly fish California’s waterways through the year, making the state one of the country’s most active fishing state.

The intent of the state’s proposed order was more limited, however. The Fish and Game Commission’s teleconference meeting Thursday was supposed to decide whether to give emergency powers to Charlton Bonham, Newsom’s appointee overseeing the Department of Fish and Wildlife, so he could close fishing season in certain areas at the request of local officials.” 

Read more here: https://www.sacbee.com/sports/outdoors/hunting-fishing/article241886476.html

In response to the cancellation of the call, the California Fish and Game Commission said in a statement: “Today’s emergency meeting of the Fish and Game Commission is being rescheduled. While the time and platform has yet to be determined, it will be delayed until next week.

Commission President Eric Sklar and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director Charlton H. Bonham also made a joint statement, admitting the failure of the commission and department to have the technology ready to handle such a large volume of calls.

They also made it very clear that the call was NOT about “banning fishing statewide or locally,” as some have claimed.

Sklar and Bonham wrote:

“We are very appreciative of the passion we heard from those that were able to join this morning’s call. It is clear that the call volume was overwhelming and the technology wasn’t ready. We acknowledge that this is a challenge as we attempt to navigate new technology for meetings. We are frustrated by what happened today and are looking for a remedy now. We understand that many members of the public and media were unable to join the call and because we also understand the importance to many of you, we need to ensure that you have an opportunity to provide input.

“We want to make sure you know that we have received a great deal of input from counties and tribes, and we are grateful for that. You can always make comment for the record at [email protected].

“We also want to make it crystal clear that today’s proposed decision was not about banning fishing statewide or locally. We are not contemplating statewide closure. The decision is to help prepare us to work with counties and tribes to make those decisions based on their requests. We are working on a tailored and surgical approach based on local needs and knowledge. We have already received some of these requests. Today’s proposed action was an effort to become more nimble and ready to react when asked by a local entity to act.”

When the meeting is rescheduled, it will be posted on the Commission’s website, sent out via listserv and advised to media.

Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission was set to discuss whether or not to temporarily grant authority to CDFW to decide whether to delay, restrict, or suspend sport or recreational fishing in order to prevent and mitigate public health risks that may arise when people travel for fishing trips or congregate while participating in available fishing opportunities. CDFW and the Commission have received requests from county representatives and local health authorities requesting delays to sport or recreational fish openers such as the Eastern Sierra trout opener scheduled for April 25, 2020. Because of overwhelming call volume, the call will be rescheduled.”

The bottom line: the CDFW and the California Fish and Game Commission weren’t prepared for the teleconference, considering the huge amount of people that had showed interest in advance to watch or participate in the meeting. I’m on conference calls and webinars all of the time that do turn out well, in contrast to yesterday’s meeting, providing the conference call hosts have done their preparation.

Bob Simms, host of the KFBK Outdoor Show, commented on the agencies’ lack of preparation for the meeting.

“The Department of Fish and Wildlife and California Fish and Game Commission had no idea how to pull this off and no idea of what to expect,” said Simms. “The Commission and CDFW, by being surprised that there was such an overwhelming response to this meeting, is equivalent to PG&E’s CEO making a public statement and being surprised by the number of calls PGE received after shutting down Northern California power for the first time.”

During his coronavirus update on Thursday, Newsom also addressed anglers about fishing seasons and opportunities — referring to the failed Fish and Game Commission meeting — in his daily COVID-19 address: www.dailykos.com/…

“I’m passionate about fishing myself,” said Newsom. “And I am getting inundated by people who are concerned that we’ve canceled the fishing season. That is not the case. We are not canceling the fishing season in the state of California. We just want to delay, not deny that season.”