The California Fish and Game Commission voted Wednesday to prohibit fishing on stretches of the American and Russian rivers due to the state’s worsening drought.
Commission members approved the closures unanimously at their meeting Wednesday morning in Sacramento. The action also extends closures on hundreds of smaller coastal streams.
The vote means that all fishing will be banned through April 30 on the American River from Nimbus Dam downstream to the power lines crossing Ancil Hoffman Park.
The commission adopted the closures to protect threatened salmon and steelhead from fishing pressure as their habitat has shrunk amid one of the worst droughts in state history. Officials are concerned that anglers will unintentionally trample the species’ egg nests – or redds – in the gravel riverbeds and more easily kill fish in the process of angling for them.
Stafford Lehr, chief of the fisheries branch at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the closures are not about “villifying” anglers but rather, recognizing that extraordinary measures are necessary to protect species already under stress.
“This is about maximizing the protections for the wild fish in these systems, given the projected outlook of a compounding or intensifying drought,” said Lehr. “It is expected we’re going to have compounding mortality (to fish) as we move through the season.”
Lehr’s agency last week took administrative action to ban fishing on coastal streams to fishing. In some cases, however, its closure authority extended only to Jan. 31. It also lacked authority to close the American and Russian rivers by administrative action.
The commission’s vote Wednesday extends the coastal closures to April 30, and adds closures for the same duration on the American and Russian rivers. The closures are expected to take effect by Feb. 23.
Officials at Lehr’s agency previously reported that California has never before seen such broad fishing closures as a result of drought.
The actions was supported by many fishing groups, whose leaders said they are sorry to see the closures, but recognize it is important to protect fish from extreme dry conditions.
“You can be assured you have the backing of flyfishers in this state,” said Lowell Ashbaugh, conservation vice president of the Northern California Council of the Federation of Flyfishers. “I hate to request a closure, because I’d rather be out there on the river fishing. But protecting fish is most important. If we don’t have the fish, we don’t have the fishing.”