The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife this week announced that recreational fishing, shellfish harvesting and spring turkey and bear hunting seasons will be delayed in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19.The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife also this week announced that recreational salmon and steelhead fishing in Oregon waters of the Columbia River will remain closed indefinitely.
And today (April 9) ODFW announced it is closing recreational hunting, fishing, crabbing and clamming to non-residents due to concerns about travel to Oregon to participate in these outdoor activities. “Such travel could spread the virus and put more of a burden on Oregon’s rural communities,” said ODFW.
As of Friday 11:59 p.m., non-residents may no longer participate in these activities in Oregon. The restriction extends until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and it is deemed safe to travel into Oregon. This order does not apply to anyone living in Oregon for less than six months who has not yet established residency.
“Rural communities are concerned about the potential impact of COVID-19 on medical and emergency services, search and rescue and their citizens. Some have asked us to close seasons to reduce travel,” said ODFW Director Curt Melcher. “We would like to keep seasons open to give locals an outlet during this difficult time, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to travel to these communities. Stick close to home and fish at your local lake, pond or river and do not go crabbing or clamming unless you live on the coast, and then only to places where access is still open.”
ODFW monitoring has shown that while Oregonians are still participating in fisheries, clamming, shed hunting, and wildlife viewing it is in significantly lower numbers and that the majority of participants are doing it close to home and practicing social distancing. “We appreciate that many Oregonians are taking the Stay Home, Save Lives order seriously,” added Melcher.
ODFW field staff monitoring participation in the field have seen out of state license plates and out of state angling and shellfish licenses in use. Staff are also fielding numerous calls from non-residents inquiring about plans come to Oregon to hunt or fish.
“ODFW believes this action restricting non-residents will help local communities enforce the restrictions on out-of-state travelers violating the order, and putting local resources and residents at risk,” said Melcher. “We appreciate everyone’s understanding at this difficult time and look forward to seeing you outdoors again in the future when this passes.”
ODFW anticipates there will be opportunity for non-residents who have already purchased a 2020 license to participate in hunting, fishing or shellfish opportunities later in the year. ODFW will refund non-resident spring bear and spring turkey tags and reinstate preference points for spring bear hunters. Please contact Licensing at firstname.lastname@example.org, (503) 947-6101 to arrange for a refund.
WDFW closed all of Washington’s recreational fisheries on March 25, including Columbia River salmon and steelhead fishing. The Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife jointly manage Columbia River fisheries. In response to Washington’s closure, and to maintain concurrent regulations, Oregon closed the Columbia River spring salmon and steelhead seasons on March 26.
WDFW’s decision this week follows last Friday’s (April 3) announcement that all state land and boat ramp closures would extend to May 4, 2020 to coincide with Gov. Jay Inslee’s extension of the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.
WDFW expects most recreation activities to remain closed through the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. The department will reevaluate specific hunting, fishing, shellfish harvesting, public land, and boat ramp closures as new information becomes available from public health officials.
“Local public health authorities have relayed to us their concerns regarding the risk that hunting, fishing and recreational travel poses to their communities right now,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. “With the support of the Governor’s office we’re asking people to put their recreation plans on pause while we work together to get this situation under control.”
Susewind noted that some individuals may be able to enjoy these activities without risky interactions, but many cannot and asks everyone to be patient for the health of all Washingtonians.
These newly extended closures include all recreational fishing and shellfish harvesting, whether on public or private lands, and the spring bear hunts that would have started on April 1 as well as the April 4 and 5 youth turkey hunt. In addition, the department will postpone the spring bear and turkey season opening days, which were previously scheduled to open on April 15. The department made the closure decisions after consulting with local health departments.
While some recreational fishing opportunities exist year-round, the lowland lakes trout season opener, previously scheduled for April 25, is one of the most celebrated angling days of the year. The recreational halibut seasons scheduled to open on April 16 in Marine Areas 6-10 and Areas 1-5 on April 30 will be delayed. Recreational harvesting of spot shrimp in Marine Areas 5-7 and 12 will also be delayed. When fishing seasons do open, anglers should be prepared to practice proper social distancing and avoid the gatherings that characteristically define opening day for so many.
A number of April razor clam digs are cancelled, though the department will assess the ability for razor clamming and other shellfish seasons to resume in May. According to Larry Phillips, WDFW Coastal Region Director, “We had an excellent season planned, with a great number of days available for razor clam digging. If we are not able to reopen, clam diggers can still look forward to larger clams next year.”
If the department is able to open spring bear and turkey seasons on May 4, spring bear hunters would still have until May 31 or June 15, depending on the location, to use their permits before the intended season closure dates for those hunts. Likewise, spring turkey hunters would have 28 days of hunting during the spring season, plus, most likely, a robust fall season.
Hunting application deadlines for the rest of the year have not changed, yet the deadline for sealing bobcat and river otter pelts that were harvested during the 2019-2020 season has been extended to July 20.
Refunds for licenses and permits, if initiated before opening day, are available. Hunters can also get their points reinstated for spring bear season if requested prior to the start of the season.
The department does not regulate shed antler hunting, yet wants to remind the public that this activity is not allowed on state lands while the closures are in place.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Inslee have both enacted sweeping measures across the two states to reduce citizens’ exposure to the coronavirus COVID-19, which was classified as a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11. In the spirit of these actions, Oregon is also extending its Columbia River salmon and steelhead closure. The previously scheduled Joint State Hearing on April 15, to consider additional spring chinook fishing opportunity has also been cancelled.
ODFW has left the remainder of Oregon’s recreational fisheries open for residents, subject to monitoring for voluntary compliance with Brown’s social distancing Stay Home, Save Lives directive. In a statement issued on April 3, ODFW Director Curt Melcher said the agency would monitor ongoing fishing seasons and modify as necessary if anglers, clammers and others fail to practice appropriate social distancing.