California Bans Fishing on More Rivers Amid Drought

California fishing regulators on Wednesday shut down recreational angling on portions of two drought-starved rivers because of concerns about salmon and steelhead trout as federal officials pledged more money to help the state cope.

The state Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously on the fishing restrictions for parts of the American and Russian Rivers.

The move comes after California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials earlier this month closed the San Lorenzo River and its tributaries in Santa Cruz County; the Big Sur River and area streams; the Eel River in Humboldt County and others.

California has already taken a number of steps to address concerns over the drought, including cutting deliveries from the State Water Project to farms and cities and urging statewide conservation.

On the federal level, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has committed $20 million, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Natural Resources Conservation Service announced another $14 million for water management improvements.

State wildlife officials said the drought-related fishing closures are the most extensive the state has ever made.

Chuck Bonham, director of fish and wildlife, said the decision is meant to save as many fish as possible, so that when the drought eases there will still be some left to catch.

Bonham said the conditions could worsen to the point that crews will have to go into rivers and streams to rescue endangered fish.

"We may need to put hands on legally protected fish, and bring them in to protect their DNA from extinction,'' Bonham told the commission.

The commissioners found that dangerously low stream flows and dwindling reservoir storage presented a danger to salmon and steelhead habitat in both watersheds.

The closures on both rivers will extend through April 30.

Numerous fishing groups voiced support for the closures.

Lowell Ashbaugh, a fly fisherman from Davis, said he hated having to close a river to fishing, but that it was for the greater good.

"The conservation of the river is very important,'' he told the commission. "If we don't have the fish, we don't have the fishing.''

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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