Commission grants CDFW director authority to selectively restrict recreational fishing in certain regions

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The California Fish and Game Commission in an emergency teleconference today voted to grant the Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife the authority to selectively restrict recreational fishing in some regions of the state after hearing from numerous county, tribal and local officials, representatives of fishing groups and the angling public.

The measure 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 Commission voted unanimously to grant that ability, temporarily, in order to prevent and mitigate public health risks that may arise when people travel or congregate for fishing events.

In a statement, the CDFW said the decision was designed to be responsive to local county level and tribal needs, like the requests CDFW and the Commission received from Alpine, Inyo and Mono counties to delay the April 25 Eastern Sierra trout opener.

“Governor Newsom recently said we expect a mid-May peak of COVID-19 and we must prepare for that surge,” said Commission President Eric Sklar. “Today’s decision is a smart and responsible approach to be ready. It does not delay or restrict specific fisheries or waters, but rather prepares us to expeditiously do so if needed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“I understand Californians desperately need the outdoors for solace, reinvigoration and spirituality, especially so right now,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “The proposal was never about a statewide permanent closure. It is about being responsive to local needs in this public health emergency, where we must do all we can as Californians to help each other make it through this together. We intend to use this authority surgically and based on local needs and knowledge.”

Commission President Sklar, Commission Vice President Samantha Murray, and Commissioners Jacque Hostler-Carmesin, Russell Burns and Peter Silva participated in the call.

CSL was one of large number of statewide and regional sportfishing organizations supporting the commission’s action today.

“While California anglers have practiced social distancing long before required by the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize that these are extraordinary times and there may be limited circumstances when temporary local restrictions may be warranted,” said Marko Mlikotin, executive director of the California Sportfishing League (CSL) after the vote.  “We are pleased that the state will employ a very measured approach to balancing the mental health benefits of being outdoors with the need to protect the health and safety of communities dependent on outdoor tourism.”

What will be the impact of this action on the sport salmon fishing season?

“What this action might mean for the sport salmon season, scheduled to open May 1, remains to be seen,” said John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association (GSSA). “The regulation approved today could allow the state to delay the salmon fishery after considering input from a host of public health officials including at the state and county levels as well as the CDC, local law enforcement and others.”

Unlike the State of Washington, the California Fish and Game Commission did not authorize a statewide sportfishing ban, but instead authorized local and temporary restrictions if requested by local authorities seeking to safeguard their communities, according to the CSL

Inyo, Mono and Alpine counties requested the state to postpone trout season, due to the potential for spreading the coronavirus into the rural counties from urban regions as anglers and their families throng to the Eastern Sierra to fish for trout in late April.

CDFW reported that it will now reach out to county and tribal governments in an effort to evaluate local concerns and associated health risks. CDFW will now reach out to county and tribal governments in an effort to evaluate local concerns and associated health risks.

If you have any questions or would like to provide input on potential angling related delays or restrictions, please contact Roger Bloom, Acting Branch Chief, Fisheries Branch, by email at [email protected].

The Commission will continue its remote meeting tomorrow by phone. The remaining agenda can be found at https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=177983&inline. More information can be found on the Commission website.

As more comments come in responding to the decision, I will publish them here. I will publish a more detailed report about today’s meeting and decision later.