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Update in California Trout Season Debate

April 14, 2020 By: Spencer Durrant

Last Friday, on April 10, I reported that anglers in California were standing up for their rights to recreate, even in the midst of shelter-in-place orders and social distancing rules. My source for that news was from an article in the Redding Record Searchlight, a publication local to Redding, CA.

However, I’ve seen been made aware of another side to that story.

While this isn’t a retraction, it’s my effort to be forthright and honest with those of you who depend on the MidCurrent name for trustworthy, even-handed news.

Per the reporting from Ethan Hanson, the California Fish and Game Commission had to shut down a WebEx call when hundreds of anglers joined to voice their displeasure for what was at the time, a perceived infringement on personal rights. Anglers suspected that the Fish and Game Commission, and California Governor Gavin Newsom, were planning on suspending the entire trout season, which is slated to open on April 25.

This was a direct result of an article published in the California Globe, where a misleading headline read “CA Department of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Wants to Close Sportfishing Season Due to COVID-19.

Hanson’s reporting is factually correct, but he never mentioned the Globe story that sparked all the controversy, and only briefly covered this statement from Fish and Game Commission President Eric Sklar and Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham, regarding the decision they hoped to reach during the meeting that never happened, thanks to unruly angler participation:

“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.”

According to The Washington Postthis meeting was supposed to determine whether to grant Bonham the emergency power to delay the beginning of trout season in certain rural areas throughout California. The Post reported that multiple officials from rural California have asked the Fish and Game Commission to take this step in preventing the spread of coronavirus. The following is a direct except from the Post’s coverage of the event.

“As the Sacramento Bee reported, some rural counties have asked to postpone the start of California’s trout season, slated to open on April 25. With many prime fishing destinations found in remote communities with little to no health-care infrastructure, local leaders fear that out-of-town visitors could inadvertently spread the coronavirus at gas stations, tackle shops and boat launches. Thursday’s meeting had a fairly dull bureaucratic purpose: voting on whether to grant emergency powers to Charlton H. Bonham, the head of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, so that he could restrict fishing in select areas at local officials’ request. There was no talk of canceling the entire fishing season statewide.”

So, while I do applaud anglers for being willing to speak up for personal liberty, it appears that too many fell into the trap we all find ourselves in far too often – placing too much belief in unfounded internet rumors.

I rushed too quickly to judgement myself, and didn’t do my due diligence as a journalist. Please take the time to read through both the story from Hanson, and the piece in The Washington Post. Both are good, accurate pieces of journalism and present two sides to a hotly-contested topic.