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Trout in doubt: Coronavirus could delay California’s fishing season

Angler, Davis Lake, Eastern Sierra, in 2017.
Davis Lake, Eastern Sierra, 2017.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

California’s Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday gave emergency powers to Fish and Wildlife Department director Charlton Bonham, allowing him to suspend, delay or restrict recreational fishing in specific areas until May 31.

The move almost certainly means delay of a California spring ritual, the opening of trout season at Crowley Lake and other lakes and rivers of the Eastern Sierra.

This year’s opener — “Fishmas” in the slang of anglers — had been scheduled for April 25. The meeting and vote were conducted remotely, with commissioners, staffers and public speakers participating by audio. The vote was unanimous.

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Several anglers opposed the commission’s vote, saying it gave state officials carte blanche to restrict fishing throughout California. Several local officials in Inyo, Mono and Alpine counties supported it, citing the health risk that thousands of out-of-town visitors could bring.

“No one wants to be the grinch who postponed Fishmas,” said Stacy Corless, a Mono County Supervisor who supported the delay.

The decision goes next to the state Office of Administrative Law for review. Formal action by Bonham to delay the season is expected after that.

Earlier this month, California Fish and Wildlife officials delayed the opening of the California recreational ocean salmon fishing season. The ocean salmon opener had been set for as early as April 4, in Monterey, San Francisco and Fort Bragg. Now officials say the opener will be delayed until at least May 1.

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The National Marine Fisheries Service consulted with state and regional officials, then decided April 1 to order the delay.

Several Western states have wrestled with the question of what to do about fishing season and springtime special events at a time when travel is discouraged and pandemic-fighting health measures call for social distancing. With Wednesday’s vote, it seems California, Oregon and Washington have taken three varying paths on fishing.

The deer, bobcats, coyotes and bears no longer have to deal with the hordes of camera-toting tourist vying to capture nature. They now roam unfettered.

In Oregon, officials on April 10 prohibited nonresidents from hunting, fishing and shellfishing in the state.

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In Washington state, officials postponed all recreational fishing and shellfishing until at least May 4. They also postponed spring bear and turkey hunting seasons to at least May 4.

In Nevada, meanwhile, organizers of the annual Burning Man festival decided April 10 to shelve the event, originally set for Aug. 30-Sept. 7, in northern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. It will be online.


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