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Coronavirus Outbreak: Newsom Assures Angry Anglers State Simply Delaying Sport Fishing Season, Not Cancelling It

SACRAMENTO (CBS SF/AP) -- Calling himself a passionate fisherman, Gov. Gavin Newsom has been attempted to quell the growing fears and anxieties among state anglers that the sport fishing season in California was merely being delayed by the current coronavirus outbreak and not being cancelled.

His comments came at his Thursday statewide coronavirus update, the same day a teleconference with California regulators to discuss a potential limited ban on freshwater sportfishing was abruptly canceled after it descended into chaos, with some of those who called in branding officials as fascists and shouting "make fishing great again."

"I just want to make a point to those who are anxious on another topic about the delay in the fishing season in the state of California," the governor said. "I may have lost half of you (watching at this point in news conference) but if I was watching I'd start paying attention right now. I'm passionate about fishing myself and I am getting inundated with calls from people that are concerned that we have cancelled the fishing season. That is not the case."

"We are not cancelling the fishing season. We just want to delay, not deny, that season."

Newsom went on to explain his reasoning.

"I hope this makes some sense, at least from our perspective it does," Newsom said. "We had two small counties call us up that have some of the greatest fishing in the world, quite literally in the world, not just in the United States. Mono and Inyo counties. They have fishing season coming up and they are just worried about being overwhelmed by people who have cabin fever that want to get out and get on those streams."

"There are derbys out there. People who wait every year for the beginning of the season. They (the counties) felt concerned about the number of people. That is quite rational and the health care system up there does not have the resources that many other systems do if indeed people got injured for any reasons came into contact with people with this virus. We started to reach out other counties that expressed similiar concerns and we realized that we need a protocol with our health directors and Fish and Game to then work on a county-by-county basis to address that anxiety. That's what we propose to do."

"We had a little bit of a problem -- a technical problem -- because of many people called into the Fish and Game Commission that the system was overwhelmed and we delayed an official discussion on this. Let me just make this point clear to all the people who love the outdoors and love trout fishing or fishing more broadly -- We hear you, we deeply care about addressing your anxiety and just know we are not ending season, we are just delaying it."

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.

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

State officials and participants urged everyone on the line to mute themselves amid background noise and beeping as dozens called in. 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 to 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 earlier this week 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" posted a story that omitted sections of the Sacramento 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 (R-Yuba City) and U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale).

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

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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