Eastern Sierra fishing season was supposed to start on April 25, but COVID-19 pandemic forces “Fishmas” to be held off until at least May 31.
SACRAMENTO—The Fish and Game Commission granted the director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) authority to delay, suspend or restrict recreational fishing activity at certain regions of the state, if the 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.”
Commissioners unanimously approved the temporary authority during a teleconference meeting held on April 15. Commission staff stated the temporary granting of authority to the CDFW director was necessary, “in order to prevent and mitigate public health risks that may arise when people travel or congregate for fishing event.”
CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham said the Fish and Game Commission’s action was never about a permanent statewide closure of sportfishing, but instead a temporary response to a public health emergency.
“I understand Californians desperately need the outdoors for solace, reinvigoration and spirituality, especially so right now,” Bonham said. “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.”
Fish and Game President Eric Sklar added the threat of COVID-19 is expected to be significant until at least mid-May.
“Governor Newsom recently said we expect a mid-May peak of COVID-19 and we must prepare for that surge,” Sklar stated. “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.”
Participating on the teleconference call were Sklar, Fish and Game Commission Vice President Samantha Murray and Commissioners Jacque Hostler-Carmesin, Russell Burns and Peter Silva.
The commission’s decision ultimately leaves it up to California’s 52 counties to determine whether emergency measures should be implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The authority to limit sportfishing activity would be in effect through May 31.
A region expected to be hard-hit by the commission’s decision: Eastern Sierra, which includes Alpine, Inyo and Mono counties. This year’s Eastern Sierra fishing opener was originally scheduled to start on April 25. Bonham said his department coordinated with officials in Alpine, Inyo and Mono counties to delay the Eastern Sierra fishing opener until at least May 31.
“After talking with the county representatives, we agreed this was a necessary step toward being responsive to local needs in this public health emergency,” Bonham said in a released statement. “These counties asked for our help, and we responded.”
The Eastern Sierras opens its annual fishing season on the final Saturday of April. The trout opener is generally hailed as “Fishmas.”
Trout season in other counties was not affected by the department’s decision, according to CDFW staff.
Some readers of The Log weren’t happy with the commission’s decision.
Gail Wisniewski, in response to The Log’s April 19 posting of this news story on Facebook, said the state’s decision was unacceptable.
“California is in the twilight zone. Glad we don’t have a boat there anymore,” she wrote. “How is this acceptable?”
Paul Ferber, in his April 11 response to a Twitter share of The Log’s report about the impending commission vote, said the state should expect a massive request for fishing license refunds.
“Over 1 million fishermen will be wanting a refund on their 2020 fishing license if it’s shut down,” Ferber said in his reply. “That’s a lot of money.”
Questions about the commission’s April 15 vote can be directed to Fisheries Branch Acting Chief, Roger Bloom; his email is Roger.Bloom@wildlife.ca.gov.