Fishing may be banned on Russian River (w/video)

  • Clark Neeley of Guerneville casts into the Russian river at Johnson's Beach on Thursday, January 30, 2014.
    (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Officials with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife are recommending the move as part of a package of emergency regulations to help lessen the threat to fish already struggling to survive and spawn in extremely low-flow conditions around Northern and Central California.

The appointed five-member commission, which meets in Sacramento, can approve, ignore or alter the proposal.

"We can't make it rain," but reducing the pressure of continued fishing may encourage survival against the odds, department spokeswoman Jordan Traverso said.

She said the measure was aimed especially at protecting adult fish attempting to move upriver to spawn.

The proposal has drawn mixed reaction from anglers, though they generally support it. Some say the critically dry conditions and confined fish have given them more than enough reasons to pull their lines.

Others say the complete ban unnecessarily restricts those going after hatchery-raised steelhead, which are raised to provide a sport fishery.

"On one hand, it would do the fish a lot of good to have no pressure on them, especially in the low water situation," said Bruce MacDonell, president of the roughly 80-member Russian River Wild Steelhead Society, whose mission includes enhancement of the river ecosystem. "On the other hand, our system has two hatcheries built on it, as you know, as mitigation, and they make fish for sport fishing. So where do you draw the line?"

Record low rainfall and an effort to retain storage in regional reservoirs has cut flows in the Russian River and area tributaries so significantly that protected chinook and coho salmon and wild steelhead have been largely unable to reach their spawning grounds this year.

Where normally they would enter the river in November or December and move quickly upstream, many have remained in the lower reaches of the river waiting for nature to trigger further migration.

Mariska Obedzinski, a biologist with the UC Cooperative Extension coho salmon monitoring project, said a tagged 2-year-old coho recorded in the lower river Nov. 11 was picked up again a few days ago only a short distance upstream.

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