The California Fish and Game Commission conducted its rescheduled emergency meeting today in which they unanimously granted Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration the authority to delay fishing season in some rural counties that have requested it.
Fishing season may now be delayed in Mono, Inyo, Sierra and Alpine counties after the local representatives voiced their fears of fishing tourism inundating their communities in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. The decision to delay fishing season in these counties now lies in the hands of the Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Charlton Bonham. The temporary authority ends on May 31st.
“I understand Californians desperately need the outdoors for solace, reinvigoration and spirituality, especially so right now,” said Bonham. “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.”
While the first “virtual” meeting on April 8th was a hodgepodge of unmuted callers simultaneously rambling their disapproval of state government overreach during the pandemic, the second meeting went on with much cooler heads and only a few technical glitches. Public officials, fishing leadership in the state and the general public were all invited to speak in the unprecedented meeting, and the opinions between local officials and the public were mixed.
Some of the first to speak were officials from Mono and Inyo Counties, who stressed their lack of healthcare infrastructure and danger to local residents as their concern of the trout season opening. They were followed by an Alpine County official, who echoed their sentiment.
California Fish and Game Commission Meets Remotely, Allows CDFW to Temporarily Delay, Restrict or Suspend Fisheries Where Needed to Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus https://t.co/nYPOSHte70 pic.twitter.com/110ieiEu3w— California Department of Fish and Wildlife (@CaliforniaDFW) April 15, 2020
Other public officials, fishing leadership and the general public mostly spoke out against the delay, arguing that fishing is a human right as stated in the California constitution. Some suggested letting only residents of a county fish in their respective county, while others emphasized that fishing is safer than going to the grocery store and that many use fishing as a source of food during a dire economic time.
In the end, the commission decided to help the local communities asking for assistance by granting authority to delay fishing in those counties, while leaving the fishing season open statewide. It was a compromise that was understood by many in an unprecedented time, but lamented as an overreach by others.
“I respect their small communities not wanting to be infected,” said one speaker from the general public. “But I also believe in the Constitution.”
In the end, the beginning of fishing season will be left up to the counties, with most currently opting to go forward with the April 25th opening – otherwise known as “Fishmas” in the state.
“Governor Newsom recently said we expect a mid-May peak of COVID-19 and we must prepare for that surge,” said Commission President Eric Sklar. “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.”
While the meeting may have left some people upset with the outcome, it was far more tame than the chaotic meeting that happened just one week prior, where over 600 people that called in were able to yell at the commission during the meeting with sayings like “fascists” and “take a stand, join the clan!” Today’s meeting, sans a brief technical difficulty period in the beginning, was comparatively civil and constructive.