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Angry California Anglers Disrupt Sport Fishing Meeting

In this April 29, 2006, file photo, campers, cars and fisher people pack the ...

Photo by Mike Delaney / AP

Above: In this April 29, 2006, file photo, campers, cars and fisher people pack the south shoreline of Crowley Lake in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., for the opening day of fishing season.

A teleconference with California regulators to discuss a potential limited ban on freshwater sportfishing amid the coronavirus pandemic was abruptly canceled Thursday after it descended into chaos, with some of those who called in branding officials as “fascists” and shouting “make fishing great again.”

The Fish and Game Commission meeting was aimed at deciding whether to give emergency powers to Charlton Bonham, the governor's appointee overseeing the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Sacramento Bee reported.

If the powers are granted, Bonham could limit fishing in some California rivers, streams and lakes at the request of local officials concerned that visiting recreational fishing enthusiasts might spread the virus.

But the meeting was overwhelmed by more than 500 participants on the call, many of whom mistakenly believed commissioners might cancel the entire fishing season statewide. Earlier this week, a group of conservative politicians, sheriffs and media outlets told social media followers that the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, was planning to do that, the newspaper said.

The intent of the state’s proposed order was much more limited, however.

Newsom addressed the controversy during his daily coronavirus briefing.

“We’re not ending the season,” the governor said. “We just want to delay it a little bit and work with the counties to address the surge of interest and the need to keep everybody protected.”

State officials and participants urged everyone on the teleconference line to mute themselves amid background noise and beeping as dozens called in, the Bee reported. One of those who didn’t mute shouted, “I have a right to speak!”

“You cancel, we’re just coming back,” another said.

The commission halted the meeting because members of the five-member board couldn’t get on the call to form a quorum, the majority of members needed to hold votes.

State officials said they were trying to determine how to reschedule the meeting next week with a system that would allow them effectively moderate public comments.

“We also want to make it crystal clear that today’s proposed decision was not about banning fishing statewide or locally,” Bonham and Commission President Eric Sklar said in a statement after the meeting. “We are not contemplating statewide closure."

Bonham told the Bee on Monday that only the rural eastern counties of Inyo and Mono have urged fisheries regulators to postpone their upcoming spring trout seasons to prevent thousands of anglers from arriving and spreading the virus to residents.

The conservative media site the “California Globe” later posted a story that omitted sections of the Bee's reporting and Bonham’s remarks that he was not advocating a statewide recreational fishing closure.

“CA Department Of Fish And Wildlife Commissioner Wants To Close Sportfishing Season Due To COVID-19,” the Globe’s headline read.

The Globe's story was shared on Facebook by state Assemblyman James Gallager, a Republican and U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, also a Republican.

Newsom said the state is working with county health directors to ensure they have enough resources.

About 1 million licensed anglers regularly fish California’s waterways through the year, making it one of the most active U.S. fishing states.

“I’m passionate about fishing myself,” Newsom said.

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