California regulators will try again to convene an online public meeting to discuss a potential limited ban on freshwater fishing during the coronavirus pandemic after last week’s teleconference was canceled when it became overwhelmed by hundreds of callers.
The state Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday will consider emergency closures of some California rivers, streams and lakes at the request of local officials concerned that visiting anglers might spread the virus.
Rumors circulated last week on social media that the commission was considering shutting down all freshwater fishing in California. That led to a crush of people trying to join the April 9 meeting, with some of those who called in branding officials as “fascists” and shouting obscenities.
Commission president Eric Sklar and Department of Fish and Wildlife director Charles Bonham clarified afterward that officials were not contemplating a statewide closure.
“We want to make it crystal clear that the proposed decision was not about banning fishing statewide or locally,” Sklar and Bonham said in a joint statement. “The decision is to help prepare us to work with counties and tribes to make those decisions based on their requests.”
Regulators were crafting a “tailored and surgical” response to requests from rural counties and any restrictions would expire May 31, officials said.
Commissioners said they hoped to reschedule the meeting with an upgraded system that would allow them effectively moderate public comments.
The emergency process began after the rural eastern counties of Alpine, Inyo and Mono urged fisheries regulators to postpone the upcoming spring trout season to prevent thousands of out-of-town anglers from arriving and spreading COVID-19 to residents.
About 1 million licensed anglers regularly fish California’s waterways through the year, making it one of the most active U.S. fishing states.