The seemingly inevitable postponement of the 2020 fishing opener has become a contentious issue in California amid coronavirus concerns. Across the state, fishermen are voicing their opinions to California’s Fish and Game Commission, which last week hosted a teleconference meeting discussing a possible delay to the fishing opener in certain rural counties.
Other counties, such as El Dorado, Humboldt and Sacramento, have not asked for a delay, and feel fishing is an activity that can be practiced while ‘social distancing.’
The letters sent by Inyo and Mono counties to the State caused an uproar among fishermen who believe it is their constitutional right to fish as they please. They feel a potential delay would amount to government overstepping its boundaries.
This led to fishermen storming (by telephone) an April 9 meeting of the Fish and Game Commission. Describing the incident, Washington Post reporter Antonia Noori Farzan wrote, “Before a virtual meeting of the California Fish and Game Commission could even get started on Thursday, it melted down into complete chaos and anarchy … More than 500 unruly anglers dialed into the conference call, flooding the line with racial slurs and recorded sermons. “Fascists!” one yelled as officials repeatedly asked callers to put themselves on mute. “Make fishing great again!” declared another.”
The meeting was summarily cancelled and rescheduled for this past Wednesday.
During its four-hour Titanic- length meeting Wednesday, the Fish and Game Commission limited the dial-in free-for-all, but let every member of the public speak. At one point, there were 40 people in the queue.
The public had some strong opinions. For the most part, folks were understanding of Mono, Inyo, and Alpine Counties requesting a delay. After all, where would anyone even stay givemn the current moratoriujm on nightly rentals.
There was a suggestion that perhaps eastern Sierra fisheries could open on-time for locals only, but this generated significant hostility. “Shutting down fishing in areas for everyone except those who live there is unconstitutional,” some huffed.
The Fish and Game Commission voted Wednesday to give CDFW (California Department of Fish and Wildlife) Director Charlton Bonham emergency powers through May 31.
Bonham now has the legal authority to amend rules regarding fishing season.
He had not made any announcements as of press time Thursday, but Mono County Supervisor Stacy Corless believes the granting of such powers makes the delay of fishing opener inevitable.
Bonham and Fish and Game Commission members said, “This has never been about closing the fishing season in California … this will be limited in scope and time.”
Corless weighs in
“[When we sent the original letter] we thought opening up the Eastern Sierra fishing season
went against the current stay-at-home order. It is usually a big gathering, and we didn’t want to send a mixed message,” said Supervisor Corless.
On the naysayers, Corless said, “They feel the whole idea of regulating fishing is unconstitutional. But once people took the time to understand what this was actually about, [the backlash wasn’t as strong].”
There is a fear that, regardless of the outcome next week, Southern Californians will storm the Eastern Sierra and overrun local facilities but Corless felt the way the Southern Californians have complied to date is a good sign, “People are staying at home and we haven’t really seen any evidence for that.”
If a ban is enacted, the California Department of Fish and Game would be responsible for enforcement.
Finally, Corless mentioned that even though a delay is likely, the action item passed on April 15 simply gave Bonham power until May 31. At the very latest, the fishing season will be delayed until June 1.