The move is meant to keep city folks bored from the statewide shutdown from invading rural communities incapable of handling a coronavirus influx.
(CN) — The California Fish and Game Commission unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday to restrict fishing in three Eastern Sierra counties due to concerns that bored people fleeing crowded urban areas could spread the novel coronavirus to rural areas that lack health infrastructure.
“There is a concern that people from dense urban areas could bring the disease,” said Commissioner Eric Sklar. “This is not about closing fishing season, but a narrow surgical approach to help a handful of counties.
Specifically, the resolution will delay the opening of trout season in Inyo, Mono and Alpine Counties — all located on the eastern fringe of California in the Sierra Nevada range, one of the most picturesque places in North America with gin-clear lakes and limpid streams that pour down precipitous mountainsides into the valleys below.
The move is meant to stave off the spread of the coronavirus into areas of the state that have significant senior populations and lack the health care infrastructure to deal with large outbreaks of the highly contagious and virulent pathogen.
“We are very concerned that people from other parts of the state or from other states could bring Covid-19 to our county,” said Nichole Williamson, Alpine County’s administrative officer. “We have no services for visitors, no lodging, the campgrounds are closed, and we don’t have a hospital.”
Typically, the three counties welcome eco-tourists with open arms as the main driver of the local economy, the unprecedented global pandemic has mountain towns throughout the United States are asking potential tourists to stay away.
The commission said it was incumbent upon them to assist rural counties with controlling the influx of people to their rivers and streams and agreed to delay the start of trout season in the three Sierra counties.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham said it was important to highlight that the ban was limited in scope and time — it will run about 45 days until May 31.
“Neither the department nor the commission has proposed a statewide closure of recreational fishing,” Bonham said.
But not everyone was in favor of the approach. Several people who called into the online meeting expressed dissatisfaction with the measure, saying it violated the constitutional rights of Californians to access state waters for fishing purposes.
“Once you lose your rights they are hard to get back,” said Aaron Bernalis.
Other callers complained that by limiting fishing, the commission was taking away one of the principal means of allowing residents to get their protein without engaging in more dangerous activities like going to the grocery store.
“Please don’t restrict people from feeding themselves,” said Kate Corsette.
Finally, many callers noted fishing is not an activity that requires people to gather and is, instead, a recreation that almost requires physical distancing to be successfully carried out.
“It doesn’t get more isolating than standing by yourself on the bank of a river,” said one caller on Wednesday.
But the commissioners said the statewide emergency presented an immediate harm to public health, not so much in the act of fishing itself, but in that of travel from densely populated places to areas without appropriate infrastructure.
“But for this pandemic, we would not even be talking about this,” Bonham said.
Commissioner Samantha Murray said she understood why people chafed at regulations that disallow them from enjoying the wellness afforded by the outdoors, but that Californians must endure a few more weeks of reduced access for the good of the entire Golden State.
“I understand where these communities are coming from,” she said. “They are balancing short-term economic gain with long-term public health benefits.”
Murray and the other commissioners also said the measures are temporary and will be revisited during the next 45 days to see if they are having the intended effect or whether they can be eased as the state proceeds through the uncertainty of a near-future muddled by the coronavirus outbreak.