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Fishing may be banned on Russian River (w/video)

  • Clark Neeley of Guerneville casts into the Russian river at Johnson's Beach on Thursday. (JOHN BURGESS/Press Democrat)

California fish and wildlife officials may move next week to close the Russian River to fishing because of the impact of drought conditions on water levels and threatened migratory species.

The proposal, which appears to be unprecedented, is slated to be taken up Wednesday by the California Fish and Game Commission.

If approved it would shut down the river's main stem to anglers through April 30 from Jenner to just north of Ukiah.

Officials with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife are recommending the move as part of a package of emergency regulations to help lessen the threat to fish already struggling to survive and spawn in extremely low-flow conditions around Northern and Central California.

The appointed five-member commission, which meets in Sacramento, can approve, ignore or alter the proposal.

“We can't make it rain,” but reducing the pressure of continued fishing may encourage survival against the odds, department spokeswoman Jordan Traverso said.

She said the measure was aimed especially at protecting adult fish attempting to move upriver to spawn.

The proposal has drawn mixed reaction from anglers, though they generally support it. Some say the critically dry conditions and confined fish have given them more than enough reasons to pull their lines.

Others say the complete ban unnecessarily restricts those going after hatchery-raised steelhead, which are raised to provide a sport fishery.

“On one hand, it would do the fish a lot of good to have no pressure on them, especially in the low water situation,” said Bruce MacDonell, president of the roughly 80-member Russian River Wild Steelhead Society, whose mission includes enhancement of the river ecosystem. “On the other hand, our system has two hatcheries built on it, as you know, as mitigation, and they make fish for sport fishing. So where do you draw the line?”

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