By: Parimal M. Rohit
MAMMOTH LAKES — California’s historic drought continues to pinch anglers and local fisheries, as the state’s Fish and Game Commission adopted an emergency regulation to authorize the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) to shut down rivers and other inland waterways to fishing if they are at-risk to water shortages.
DFW could temporarily shut down a river to recreational fishing if certain criteria are met. For example, a fishery could temporarily be shut down if the water temperature in occupied habitats consistently exceeds 70 degrees for at least eight hours per day and three consecutive days.
Other triggers include water levels dropping below 10 percent of capacity, impeded passages for migratory fish species and the adult breeding population is less than 500 individuals.
“We’re in extreme, extraordinary circumstances,” said Stafford Lehr, head of DFW’s Inland and Anadromous Fisheries. “We only see it as getting worse. Conditions are worse in 2015 than they were in 2014. We have populations at risk that are currently open to angling. Anglers are not the enemy here. This is a mere tool to help protect these precious resources.”
Lehr added DFW needs to quickly respond to degrading conditions at local rivers and other waterways. A recent attempt to declare an emergency action at the American River near Sacramento, for example, took 45 days to implement.
The emergency resolution, which Executive Director Sonke Mastrup described as a stop-gap measure, expires in December.
Alternatively, commissioners could have shut down a 5.5-mile stretch of Merced River. However, the Fish and Game Commission voted in favor of creating a process to temporarily shut down rivers to fishing.
Commissioners also discussed how to develop a permanent process to address drought impacts on inland fisheries and allow DFW to efficiently respond to future water shortages. The fisheries would re-open once fishing conditions, passages and proper water levels are restored.
DFW staff might also contemplate a policy addressing the impact of water shortages on offshore fishing.