Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

Steven Wood of Folsom fishes for salmon in the American River below Nimbus Dam on Jan. 11. Amid a drought, the California Fish and Game Commission requested that anglers stop fishing in the river until April 30. People wading in rivers can trample nests of eggs needed to sustain threatened fish.

Editorial: Officials are protecting future runs by restricting fishing now

Published: Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 - 12:00 am

In his novella “A River Runs Through It,” Norman Maclean writes that “not far downstream was a dry channel where the river had run once, and part of the way to come to know a thing is through its death.”

In California, we too are coming know rivers through their deaths.

Don’t be fooled by the weekend rain, welcome though it is. California’s reservoirs remain at historic lows, as do the rivers.

State officials are wise to be calling on us all to abide by extreme measures brought about by the drought, difficult though they may be.

As the drought radiates throughout our state, Californians are being asked to take inconvenient steps to save water, and also fish and wildlife.

In recent days, the California Fish and Game Commission requested that anglers stop fishing on many of the premier waterways. The American and Russian rivers are the latest to be closed, but fishing has been banned on dozens of other streams for weeks.

“We can’t make it rain, but we can take action to relieve our beleaguered salmon and steelhead populations from any additional stress,” Commission President Michael Sutton said in a statement.

Most fishermen are passionate about their avocation. Some believe there is “no clear line between fishing and religion,” as Maclean’s stern Presbyterian minister father noted. For them, the river closures are hard blows, but necessary.

Some people might wonder why we should close the rivers, if the water is still flowing, and there are salmon and steelhead to be caught.

It’s true that there are fish in the water, and they could be caught. But in so doing, fishermen must tread in the now-thinner, shallower stretches to get to their spots.

The more people stomp through sensitive fish egg gravel nests, called redds, the more fish eggs will be destroyed. As the flows diminish, more and more redds are exposed to wading, and death.

A healthy fishery requires a good water flow. Even lightly diminished flows can alter the subsurface habitat fish need, and disrupt the food chain by reducing protective cover minnows and insects require. California Department of Fish and Wildlife managers are going so far as planning possible fish-rescue operations if the flows don’t improve soon.

These restrictions are the most extensive in California history. They will remain in place until April 30.

By their nature, people who fish are patient. They need to observe the order and stay out of the cited rivers. So, in Maclean’s words, Californians won’t have to “enliven its stony remains with the waters of memory.”

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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