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California Wildlife Officials Can Delay Fishing Over Virus Fears

April 15, 2020, 9:10 PM

California fish and game officials now have the power to temporarily suspend, restrict, or delay recreational fishing to protect public health threats associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

The California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously Wednesday on an emergency regulation that gives the state Department of Fish and Wildlife authority to act on fishing seasons. The rule expires May 31.

The authority is for specific areas, not statewide, and decisions will be in consultation with local and tribal public health officials, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham said.

Any changes to fishing rules must be posted online daily by 7 p.m., under the regulation.

“This is going to be a very surgical approach if we take it,” Fish and Game Commission President Eric Sklar said.

‘Fishmas’ Season

The vote was prompted by three Eastern California counties bordering Nevada that sought delays in their trout season, which begins April 25 and is referred to by some as Fishmas.

The rural counties that requested help from state officials have small medical facilities, if at all. Campgrounds, hotels, RV parking areas, and many services that tourists would use are closed, meaning visitors will have few resources, they said.

One of the counties, Alpine, has no hospital and one confirmed Covid-19 case that’s related to travel, county Health and Human Services Director Nichole Williamson said.

“We have no evidence of community transmission, and we’d like to keep it that way,” she said.

Oregon wildlife officials closed recreational hunting, fishing, crabbing, and clamming to non-residents on April 10 over similar concerns.

Fishing groups supported the California measure as long as it was prompted by local requests and was temporary. But they cautioned that it could move fishing outings to other areas.

“We are concerned about a pressure shift,” said Mark Smith, a lobbyist for Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association.

Others said the move violated state law and prevented people from catching food in a time when store shelves are bare.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed an executive order March 19 ordering residents to stay home except for essential needs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily C. Dooley at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Rebecca Baker at