Covid-19: Idaho Fishing Continues With Social Distancing; Montana Closes Fishing Piers, Group Sites; Corps, USFWS Issue Closures; NOAA Looks At Impacts On Fishing Industries

As of this week, Idaho Fish and Game has not closed any fishing or hunting seasons in response to Covid-19, and the department is providing guidelines in accordance with Gov. Brad Little’s orders for social distancing at least six feet apart, including while fishing and at access sites and boat ramps.

Last week, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Wednesday temporarily closed recreational fishing and shellfishing statewide in the wake of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s order directing Washingtonians to stay home to limit the spread of coronavirus/COVID-19. A few hours later the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that it was closing recreational angling for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River, effective Thursday, March 26 at 11:59 p.m.

— CBB, March 26, 2020, COVID-19: WASHINGTON CLOSES RECREATIONAL FISHING STATEWIDE, OREGON SHUTS DOWN COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON/STEELHEAD FISHING

(For real-time information on total Covid-19 cases, daily new cases, total deaths, daily new deaths for Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington go to https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/ )

“Fishing lends itself to social distancing,” IDFG Fisheries Bureau Chief Jim Fredericks said. “In fact, for most types of fishing, general etiquette says if you’re fishing within six feet of the next person, you’re way too close.”

IDFG Covid-19 information can be found at https://idfg.idaho.gov/covid19

“Lakes, reservoirs and streams are vast places where anglers can easily put space between themselves. During the statewide Covid-19 order, it’s extremely important that people recreating on the water make extra efforts to maintain social distancing at the access sites, boat ramps and in the parking lots,” said IDFG.  

Anglers are advised to launch boats quickly, minimize dock time, maintain space between people, and don’t gather in crowds. 

“Please help ensure our boat ramps and other public access sites remain open,” Fredericks said. “Maintaining opportunities to enjoy outdoor recreation will depend on people doing it safely. Enjoy your time outdoors—responsibly.”

Because hunting and fishing may require some travel, the Governor’s Office provided some additional guidelines for all recreationists:

•Minimize your travel distance from your home and spread out. If a trailhead or other access site is congested, consider finding another one, or go during off-peak hours.

•Check before you go. Many campgrounds and trails may be closed. 

•Bring all supplies you will need from home to avoid putting unnecessary strain on local grocery stores or convenient stores that serve the local population. Make sure you pack out all your trash and leave your space clean.

Montana announced that as a reminder to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing guidelines should be followed at all Fish, Wildlife & Parks sites.

“Keep your distance from fellow recreators. FWP has closed group-use sites. This includes all fishing piers at Montana state parks, fishing access sites and wildlife management areas due to the risk of high congregation.”

While state parks, fishing access sites and a few wildlife management areas (check for seasonal closures) remain open at this time, maintenance at FWP facilities will be cut back and public opportunities limited:

•Overnight camping will not be allowed. Campgrounds will be systematically closed to give current campers 72-hour notice. 

•Group use sites will be closed, including playgrounds and fishing piers.

•Visitor center closures will be extended at least through April 10.

•Bathrooms may be limited.

•Sites will be regularly patrolled by enforcement staff. 

If a parking lot at a fishing access site or state park is full, consider another place to recreate.  Also, it is a good idea to recreate in your local area.

For more information on FWP’s response to COVID-19, visit http://fwp.mt.gov/covid19

Also, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District has closed all recreation sites to prevent the spread of COVID-19, effective March 30.

“The health and safety of all visitors, partners, employees and their families is our top priority. These temporary closures align with current health authority guidance and are necessary to help control this disease,” said Melissa Rinehart, Portland District chief of natural resource management.

“We recognize the challenges this may cause our recreation users and local communities, and thank everyone for doing their part to help prevent the spread of the disease so we can return to normal operations as soon as possible.”

These closures support the State of Oregon and State of Washington executive orders to avoid unnecessary travel and practice social distancing, and also help to reduce pressure on local emergency services at a time when their capacity is lower and their focus is COVID-19, said the Corps.

The Corps is implementing closures by posting signs and closing gates at Portland District recreation areas located in Oregon and Washington. These closures will remain in effect until further notice.

Individuals with paid campground reservations will be contacted by email and full refunds will automatically be processed by Recreation.gov with no cancellation fees. Individuals should not attempt to contact Recreation.gov to request a refund as that will lead to a cancellation fee being charged.

The Corps will continually monitor guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic and update recreation conditions as they change.

Learn more about what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing here: www.usace.army.mil/Coronavirus/

In Idaho, the Corps Dworshak Dam Ranger staff announced that Dent Acres campground, as well as Canyon Creek and Dam View campgrounds will not open for the season in April as planned.  Due to minimum staffing and for visitor safety during this COVID-19 outbreak, Dworshak staff has been directed to postpone opening the campgrounds until a later date. 

Day use areas at boat ramps and trails will remain open, until further notice.  Although these recreation opportunities allow for getting outside and enjoying the spring weather while “social distancing,” the Corps stresses that other people are utilizing the trails also and give each other a wide berth. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health the virus can live for up to 3 days on a plastic surface.  The Corps is advising parents to keep their children off playgrounds to prevent person to person transmission of COVID-19.

For more information or questions, please call the Dworshak Dam Visitor Center at (208) 476-1255, although the Visitor Center is closed, we are happy to answer any questions by telephone.   For updated water level and boat ramp information, call (800) 321-3198; and for regional reservoir, water level, and flow information, visit the Walla Walla District’s Web site at www.nww.usace.army.mil.

Regarding U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hatcheries and national wildlife refuges, the agency says, “We are proud to provide opportunities for safe, enjoyable outdoor experiences at many of our national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries during the coronavirus pandemic. If you are visiting one of our locations, it is critically important to follow guidance from the CDC and state and local public health authorities on social distancing, avoiding overcrowding, and exercising good hygiene. If a parking lot is full when you visit, please do not stop. We understand that the outdoors can help relieve stress, but these guidelines must be followed for our public health and safety.

For USFWS state by state closures go to https://www.fws.gov/home/state-by-state-closures.html#Oregon

Meanwhile, remaining open and expanding hours of fishing somewhat is the commercial gillnet fleet in Select Areas in the lower river. This week, the  two-state Columbia River Compact added two days of fishing for gillnetters in the upper Youngs Bay, an off-channel area set aside for gillnetters where nearly all fish are of hatchery-origin and upriver mortalities are low.

Jim Wells of Salmon for All in Astoria said that for commercial fishermen this year is tracking worse than last year, which was a disaster. In addition, the Alaska fishery will be in serious trouble. “Anything is appreciated,” Wells said at the Compact teleconference Thursday, April 2.

“This could be one of the toughest years in decades for commercial fishing, but it is also a tough year for consumers (who want salmon),” said Bill Tweit, special assistant with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We need to do what we can to get salmon to the market and through to consumers.”

NOAA Fisheries says it “is actively monitoring and adjusting to the COVID-19 national health crisis. Ensuring the health and safety of our employees, partners, and broader fishing community during this crisis is a priority. We remain fully operational with much of our workforce teleworking. We will continue to fulfill our mission, maintaining our nation’s seafood supply and protecting marine life.”

The agency says it recently “stood up a team of experts from across the agency to collect and analyze COVID-19-related impacts on the U.S. commercial seafood industry, including wild harvest and aquaculture. We are interested in learning about the virus’ impacts on their employees, their business, the businesses they support, and the broader seafood supply chain.

“We are also looking at impacts on the recreational, subsistence, non-commercial, and tribal fishing industries. With this effort, we are interested in assessing immediate and long-term needs to secure and enhance the resilience of the U.S. seafood and fisheries industries. We will continue to work with the Administration and Congress on this important, unprecedented COVID-19-driven effort.”

Stakeholders interested in sharing information on the effects of COVID-19 on their businesses can submit that information to NMFS.COVID-19@noaa.gov.

For more information go to https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/noaa-fisheries-coronavirus-covid-19-update#regarding-activities-related-to-noaa-fisheries-mission

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