Story updated April 25, 9:30 a.m.
SANTA BARBARA – On Friday, the saltwater launch ramps in Santa Barbara Harbor, Ventura Harbor and Channel Islands Harbor reopened on an interim basis with strict social distancing guidelines. The Morro Bay launch ramp reopened as well, as did the Port San Luis Sportlaunch.
Meanwhile, in San Diego County, many cities reopened their beaches and bays under strict regulations, but recreational powerboating remained off limits. Most launch ramps in Orange and Los Angeles Counties never closed.
A release by the City of Santa Barbara Waterfront Dept. broke out their restrictions, which are similar to those at the newly reopened Ventura County ramps. Launch bays are staggered to prevent vessels from launching side-by-side. Wash stations are closed. Boaters are strongly recommended against congregating while waiting to launch and are encouraged to wear masks when outside of vehicles in the launch area.
The restrictions came with a warning. Non-compliance could lead to re-closing the ramp.
Notably, the Morro Bay launch is limited to San Luis Obispo County residents only. A release stated California ID cards and boat registrations would be checked to ensure compliance. Violation of the “locals-only” directive could be punished by a $1,000 fine or jail time. Local officials were justifying the policy by citing the state’s Safer at Home directive which prohibits non-essential travel.
The Port San Luis Sportlaunch is limited to 30 launches per day and is operating under shortened hours.
The majority of Los Angeles and Orange County saltwater launch ramps never shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Orange County, the ramps at Dana Point, Newport and Huntington Harbor (Sunset Aquatic) are reportedly open. The list of open ramps in Los Angeles County includes South Shore and Davies in Long Beach Harbor as well as Marina Del Rey. The hoist at King Harbor remains closed.
However, in San Diego County, all saltwater launch ramps remained closed as did the bays to recreational powerboating. Anglers were disappointed, as an earlier plan calling for the ramps to reopen and allowing access to the ocean for fishing and other activities would have been restored. Instead, as of Monday some cities reopened their beaches under strict guidelines which allow kayaking and paddling. It was unknown whether the beach launch at La Jolla Shores most frequented by kayak anglers would reopen. All beach parking lots remain closed.
Keep America Fishing, a fishing advocacy organization backed by the American Sportfishing Association, has been tireless in pursuing the reopening of fishing access closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. KAF issued voluntary guidelines on how to practice responsible recreation. The guidelines are compatible with California sportfishing regulations – while the state has delayed the Sierra trout opener in Inyo, Mono and Alpine Counties, it has not closed fishing statewide. All fishing closures, de facto or official, have been driven by local jurisdictions. The KAF guidelines include fishing locally, staying safe by maintaining social distancing and avoiding crowds, and being flexible by checking state regulations and choosing a new location if crowds are encountered.