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Captain’s Log: Northern Neighbors Reeling from Decision to Close Waterways to Fishing

Watching our neighbors deal with a tough situation brings home powerful messages that we may need to heed.

Our CenCal and NorCal California neighbors are reeling under the real-world impacts of the California Fish & Game Commission shutting down fishing in coastal rivers and streams from roughly Big Sur all the way to the Oregon border.

Such actions affect thousands of jobs and all of the people who depend on the economic driving force of those thousands of jobs. That was a harsh measure. Yet, many (not all) people — even many of those directly affected — are nodding their heads and battening down their financial hatches to weather this financial storm.

The action was deemed necessary because in this drought, if we do not get any more water into our streams and rivers, steelhead and salmon will not be able to enter the coastal waterways to move upstream and spawn. Many prime spawning areas may be high and dry. If the relatively few fish already in the waterways are all we have to depend on for the annual spawn, then we’d better protect them temporarily and give them every opportunity to make as many babies as they possibly can.

The action is not quite done yet, because the Fish & Game Commission has to run such decisions by the California Office of Administrative Law, whose job it is to make sure the action can stand the test of law.

Naturally, within days after the Fish & Game Commission rapped its gavel and passed it to the OAL, the rains came. I’m told that Bodega Bay, for example, had nearly 7 inches of rain in the past week. That is just the kind of rain needed to get the water flows up so that steelhead massed in the ocean near the river mouths can move upstream, rather than being gobbled up by uncontrolled populations of sea lions.

Does this mean that the OAL now has to decide whether it makes sense to continue with the process? Thankfully, no. OAL staff do not want to make wildlife management decisions. The Fish & Game Commission can revisit the decision, in light of climactic changes.

Thinking about how we handle wildlife and droughts in SoCal, we can learn some lessons from our northern friends. We don’t need to shut down our streams and rivers because steelhead are already protected locally. But we can certainly revisit how we can help our sparse population of steelhead by working on our streams to make them more user — fish being the users — friendly.

The work done (and more needs to be done) along the lower stretch of San Jose Creek, alongside Kellogg Avenue in Goleta is a prime example of striving to make it easier for anadromous fish to make it upstream to where they can spawn. More work like that, please!

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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