Emergency Commission meeting devolves into a free-for-all (updated)

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Action to consider granting the DFW Director temporary emergency power to alter or close fisheries during the COVID-19 crisis delayed a week

Update: The rescheduled FGC meeting will take place via webinar on April 15 at 10 a.m. Visit this link for more information. 

SACRAMENTO – An emergency Thursday internet and telephone meeting of the California Fish and Game Commission to consider granting Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham the authority to alter or close state fisheries never got off the ground due to technical limitations and the protests of anglers on the line waiting to comment.

At 8:30 a.m., the scheduled start time, more than 750 members of the public were on the shared audio line. Many others tried to join to participate in the meeting, but the system reached capacity. Even three members of the FGC were locked out of the call, making the necessary quorum impossible to obtain and halting the meeting before it even started.

RELATED: Delayed Eastern Sierra trout opener a reality

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A vocal portion of the anglers waiting to speak exercised the power of civil disobedience to protest the action under consideration by the FGC. Meeting moderator and FGC Executive Director Melissa Miller-Hensen was shouted down repeatedly. Some angry fishermen yelled profanities. Another was heard calling the FGC fascists. Young children babbled on the shared audio feed, and somebody preaching about the end of times went on for a while. Chaos prevailed.

The audio feed concluded shortly after the announcement the meeting would be rescheduled. Update: On Friday the FGC announced the meeting will be held April 15 at 10 a.m. Instructions to access the meeting as well as supporting documents can be found at this link.

In a joint statement, FGC President Eric Sklar and DFW Director Bonham said they recognized the public’s passionate interest. They acknowledged the failure of technology and encouraged interested parties to submit public comment via fgc@fgc.ca.gov.

The statement continued, “We also want to make it crystal clear that today’s proposed decision was not about banning fishing statewide or locally. We are not contemplating statewide closure. The decision is to help prepare us to work with counties and tribes to make those decisions based on their requests. We are working on a tailored and surgical approach based on local needs and knowledge. We have already received some of these requests. Today’s proposed action was an effort to become more nimble and ready to react when asked by a local entity to act.”

DFW Deputy Director of the Office of Communications, Education and Outreach Jordan Traverso clarified the joint statement, saying that the FGC meeting was to consider delegating the authority to the DFW’s Director Bonham to order seasonal fishing closures or adjustments only if FGC President Sklar agreed and only if a request to do so was received by a county, tribe or other local entity.

Inyo and Mono Counties have already requested the delay of the April 25 Sierra trout opener to prevent a crush of visitors that could overwhelm scarce healthcare and public safety resources during the COVID-19 crisis. Other rural counties such as Alpine are expected to follow suit.

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