SMOKE ON THE WATER
Locals fume about proposed fishing regulations
California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) hosted a public forum Wednesday at the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop to solicit comment on proposed changes to fishing rules and regulations which would significantly impact the Eastside.
Reaction amongst the 100 or so attendees at Tallman Pavillion ranged from neutral to hostile.
The changes, according to CDFW Inland Fisheries Program Manager Roger Bloom, are meant to streamline and simplify.
For example, he said CDFW currently has 212 bodies of water subject to special regulations, 88 seasons, 8 size limits and 10 gear restrictions in its 88-page freshwater sport fishing manual for 2019-2020.
The proposed rules would reduce the number of different seasons from 88 to 6, for example, and would transition several of the aforementioned 212 bodies of water to a general statewide regulation which = “open year-round, five bag limit, ten possession limit, no gear restrictions.”
Crowley Lake? That would be open year-round. Same with the Walker River, the Owens, the Lakes Basin and many others.
But here’s the catch.
Say goodbye to Fishmas, the traditional fishing opener which takes place the last weekend in April.
The new “season” at Crowley Lake for example (where you can actually keep fish and fish without gear restriction versus catch-and-release) would be from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend until September 30.
The rest of the year at Crowley would be catch-and-release using artificial lures and barbless hooks.
*For a complete rundown of sites and rules, visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/fishing/inland/trout-plan.
So why are people unhappy?
Why, when Reagan Slee of Reagan’s Sporting Goods asked if anyone in the room was happy with the proposed changes, did no one raise their hand?
And why do fishermen of all stripes, from fly fishermen to bait fishermen, all seem to be on the same page?
“I’ve never been in a room where bait and fly people are in complete agreement on something,” remarked Slee Thursday morning.
Slee says year-round fishing will decimate fish populations by putting them under constant stress.
Michelle Layne of Tom’s Place Resort said delaying the fishing opener by a month will do serious financial harm to her business and to her 32 employees.
And postponing opening to Memorial Day weekend does nothing for Bishop, since hotels and campgrounds are already booked solid for Mule Days.
And why Memorial Day weekend anyway, questioned many. As 37-year Bishop resident Steve Kneip said, “We already have a holiday. It’s called Fishmas.”
Carol Webb of Virginia Lakes Resort said opening backcountry lakes to year-round fishing is simply inviting disaster, because you’re putting inexperienced people on the ground in places without cellphone service.
In essence, the new rules would have the effect of “unleashing the yahoos.” (My words, not hers).
As longtime local fishing guide Fred Rowe said Thursday with a chuckle, most folks think that four-wheel drive cloaks them with invincibility when it comes to accessing rugged terrain in all seasons.
Rowe predicted that local tow truck drivers should see a definite uptick in business.
But back to the fish …
Curtis Milliron questioned how Fish and Wildlife plans to monitor the effects its policy changes will have and how they will affect fish populations.
Roger Bloom suggested that any monitoring will likely be limited and insufficient. “We’re not going to get a magic pot of money [to do it],” he replied.
As Reagan Slee observed, “If the state stocked more [fish], it [new regulations] wouldn’t matter as much. if the state did its job, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Slee said he sells $500,000 worth of fishing licenses annually out of his store. “And I don’t think we see $500,000 in fish for Inyo and Mono Counties combined,” he added.
This is his prediction: That for the next two years, he’ll quite honestly make pretty good money. But then, the fishery will be destroyed, and he’ll be contemplating whether or not he should start carrying rock climbing equipment.
80% of Reagan’s business is currently fishing-related.
The Tao of Fred
Fred Rowe casts himself as fairly neutral in regard to the proposed changes.
Yes, there would no longer be the big bang of the season opener, which Reagan Slee says encompasses both the single biggest day of business and the biggest single week of business he does all year. But perhaps, said Rowe lodging establishments and fly shops and the like will make up the difference throughout the year.
“Everyone’s scared because no one knows the answer,” he said.
“And do we need to be harassing fish populations year-round?” he asks rhetorically. “It’s fine to change the regulations if you have a biological basis,” says Rowe. “But can they monitor [impacts]? Will they?”
And year-round fishing doesn’t just affect fish. As Fishing Guide and Duck Hunting enthusiast Chris Leonard explained Thursday, when Hot Creek and the Upper Owens were opened to year-round fishing in 2007, the ducks literally disappeared overnight. “I don’t duck hunt in those areas anymore,” he said, “But I’d sure like to.”
The potential impact to other wildlife from increased pressure on fisheries is undetermined and unlikely to be studied, added Leonard.
Rowe said that in some respects, the new regulations will help his business. As an example, he cited two clients in their 70s who wished to fish the Upper Owens this weekend, but Rowe turned them down because water flows have tripled over the past three weeks.
Given the new regulations, he could’ve taken them three weeks ago.
Fish and Wildlife says it is soliciting input and vows to listen – that the proposal is not yet a “done deal.”
And Fishing Guide Kevin Peterson told fellow attendees at Wednesday’s meeting not to “turn this into a lynch mob situation.”
“It’s not a done deal,” he reiterated. “We can have our say.”
This is in contrast to 2007, when CDFW changed regulations on the Upper Owens, Hot Creek and the East Walker to year-round fishing without soliciting public input.
The meeting in Bishop was the first of six CDFW plans to hold statewide over the next month. Its informational tour is schedule to conclude in Truckee on April 23.