California bans fishing on Russian River amid drought

  • Kevin Young of Windsor, left, hands off a 15 to 20 pound steelhead caught by Fred Dagnino of Forestville, right, Wednesday Feb. 5, 2014 as the two finish their day on the Russian River below Johnson's Beach in Guerneville. State fishing regulators Wednesday shut down fishing on the Russian River due to the ongoing drought. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

The California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to shut down the Russian River to fishing in hopes of creating more favorable conditions for at-risk salmon and wild steelhead struggling months behind schedule to get upstream to spawn.

The move follows a recommendation made public last week by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which won widespread support from the angling community and environmentalists for the move.

It affects the main stem of the river from Jenner to the confluence with the river's east fork, north of Ukiah. The closure will remain in place through April 30, the tail end of the main spawning season.

But the fishing ban will not go into effect until it can be approved by the state Office of Administrative Law, likely around Feb. 23, Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jordan Traverso said.

That means fish that have waited in the lower reaches, sometimes for months, for rain and increased river flows to trigger their migration will remain at the mercy of those still eager to drop their lines for the next 2 1/2 weeks or so.

Traverso said state wildlife officials have no ability to enforce the closure in the meantime but trust anglers, among "the original conservationists," to protect the fishery they love.

"Overwhelmingly, they understand the need to close these waters and the pressure on the fish," she said. "They aren't bad actors just out to get theirs."

Yet local fishermen said it was likely that some anglers would continue to fish until someone official said they could not.

Others said they saw no problem with continued fishing until the ban takes effect, as long as only hatchery-born steelhead were targeted.

"I would assume that people are going to keep fishing until we can't fish anymore," said Clark Neely, of Guerneville.

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