On Tuesday, April 7, the California Fish and Game Commission announced that it would meet remotely Thursday in an emergency meeting to discuss “delegating temporary authority to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to delay, suspend or restrict sport or recreational fishing if the director of CDFW, 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 commission posted phone numbers for the public to weigh-in during the webinar. The call volume Thursday was so high the system crashed, and the meeting needed to be rescheduled for next week.
And in announcing the rescheduled meeting, the commission and department clarified that it was not considering a statewide fishing closure, but a more tailored approach.
Commission President Eric Sklar and CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham made the following joint statement:
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org..
“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.”
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 say they 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.
The background materials for the failed Tuesday meeting noted that “many sport (also known as recreational) fisheries are defined by calendar dates, typically with an “opener” and a “closing” date. When a season opens, people regularly travel to fish, and congregate in parking lots, near waterways, on trails and access paths, on boat ramps, and in other areas, taking advantage of the newly opened fishing season.
“Travel and potential concentration of fishers at “choke points” where it may not be possible to maintain six feet of separation (e.g., launch ramps, parking lots, etc.) have the potential to increase the spread of COVID-19. In addition, when traveling for a fishing trip, a fisher has the potential to travel to remote, small towns, often stopping at gas stations or convenience marts, tackle shops, fast food and other restaurants, marinas or boat launches, and/or hotels/motels. The travel can lead to inadvertent transmission of the virus to the local business attendants or employees, even if the fisher is asymptomatic.
“Given the risks associated with some public behavior and guidance to avoid unnecessary travel and maintain physical distancing, a patchwork of locally-based decisions are limiting access, such as closures of launch ramp facilities and charter boat operations, and restrictions to harbor and marina access. Reducing the potential for transmission in certain areas by limiting access can inadvertently lead to aggregations of fishers in surrounding, unrestricted areas, leading to higher probability for increased rates of COVID-19 transmission, or increased competition for the remaining opportunities. Navigating a patchwork of limitations from multiple sources and jurisdictions may lead to confusion in the regulated public.”
A staff summary said the department and commission “have determined that a temporary, adaptive approach is needed to give DFW the ability to delay, suspend or restrict sport fishing in certain or all inland and marine waters or restrict the taking of any fish species.
“The proposed emergency regulation will delegate authority to DFW to temporarily suspend, delay, or restrict sport fishing in specific areas within the state when necessary to protect public health from the threat posed due to by COVID-19. The decisions under this emergency regulation will be based on the most current information available, considering public health and safety guidance from federal, state, tribal, and local officials, and in consultation with the president of FGC.”
The staff noted some significant public comments:
1. Mono and Inyo counties and the Mammoth Lakes Town Council request FGC postpone trout season in Mono and Inyo counties
2. Four state and national sport and recreational fishing organizations request that closures not be overly broad
3. A fishing guide has expressed concerns about anglers traveling to Mono County to fish and other guides not following public health guidelines about physical distancing
4. Several sport fishers are opposed to closures
Staff of both the commission and CDFW have recommended that the commission adopt the proposed emergency regulation.