California is mulling a possible delay to the start of fishing season amid concerns of potential health risks due to the coronavirus epidemic, sparking backlash among passionate anglers.
But Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday sought to quell that anxiety, emphatically saying that the upcoming fishing season hasn’t been and won’t be canceled.
“I’m passionate about fishing myself and I’m getting inundated by people that are concerned that we’ve canceled the fishing season,” the governor said at his daily COVID-19 briefing. “That is not the case, we are not canceling the fishing season in California.”
He added the state wants “to delay, not deny, the season.”
Newsom’s remarks came after a Fish and Game Commission emergency meeting had to be rescheduled due to an “overwhelming” volume of calls that caused technical glitches, according to a statement from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The governor said a formal decision on the matter will come later as a result.
“We had a little bit of problem, yesterday — technical problems, because so many people called in to the Fish and Game Commission — that the system was overwhelmed and we delayed an official decision on this,” the governor explained.
The purpose of the meeting was to determine whether to adopt an emergency regulation that would have allowed the wildlife agency to temporarily suspend, restrict or delay sport and recreational fishing in certain areas during the public health crisis.
More than 500 people called in to participate in the state’s telemeeting when it kicked off at 8:30 a.m., and it rapidly descended into chaos as people upset over the situation flooded the line with comments, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Despite pleas from officials, some participants refused to mute their line and wait to be called upon, talking over one another, according to a recording of the call posted by the Bee.
“We have a right to speak,” one said.
Someone referred to the commission as “fascists” while another commented, “Let’s make fishing great again.”
The meeting was halted before the commission had a chance to come to a decision.
It will take place sometime next week, on a day and time to be determined.
But one thing not under consideration, officials say, is an outright ban on fishing in the Golden State.
“We also want to make it crystal clear that today’s proposed decision was not about banning fishing statewide or locally. We are not contemplating statewide closure,” Commission President Eric Sklar and Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham said in a joint statement.
The state was moved to act after officials in Mono and Inyo counties expressed concern about an influx of people to the rural areas, which have fewer health care resources to deal with a potential COVID-19 outbreak, according to Newsom.
“That is quite rational,” he said.
Mono County already has one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in California, but only has a single hospital with two intensive care unit beds and four ventilators, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The altitude in the Eastern Sierra — Mammoth Lakes sits at 8,000 feet — also makes treating a severe respiratory illness like COVID-19 a challenge, authorities there said.
The state has reached out to other counties that have expressed similar concerns and will work with local health directions and Fish and Game to develop a protocol on a county-by-county basis.
“We hear you, we deeply care about addressing your anxiety and just know we are not ending the season,” Newsom said. “We just want to delay it a little bit and work with the counties to address the surge of interest and the need to keep everyone protected and everyone safe in this circumstance.”