File this away under “fishing regulations that stink.” Literally. No, literally literally!
As noted by California Sportsman reporter Steve Carson in the April issue (see “Coho out, Chinook in”), new regulations that kicked into effect in March now make it illegal for sport anglers to fillet their salmon or steelhead while on the river or on the riverbank.
The language of the new rule – proposed simply as “Filleting of Salmonids on Inland Waters” and now in the books as Add Section 1.45 of Fish and Game Codes 5508 and 5509 – states that all salmon and steelhead taken in rivers or lakes where sport fishing is allowed must be kept intact (guts not included) until “placed at the angler’s permanent residence, a commercial preservation facility or being prepared for immediate consumption.”
The theory behind this rule addendum is that it closes a loophole that could allow poachers to kill a wild salmon or steelhead, fillet it and dispose of the carcass while still on the river. Leaving the fish “in the round” from harvest to home allows for quick identification of the species, and of the missing adipose fin that signifies it a legal salmon or steelhead.
The practice and enforcement of the rule are a couple ‘nother balls of wax. Or, stinky barrels of fish carcasses.
“Can you imagine what it’s going to be like at the hotels?” asks Redding-based guide Kirk Portocarrero, who, like most other Northern California salmon and steelhead guides, routinely fillets his client’s fish at the end of the day. “Guys are going to go back to the hotel, fillet their fish and dump the carcasses in the trash. You’ll be able to spot the buzzards flying overhead.”
KP is only partly joking: the language of the rule states “at the angler’s residence” or “for immediate consumption,” but it’s not always realistic (or functional) to keep a 40-pound Chinook carcass on ice until you get it home (especially if you’re among the tens of thousands of out-of-state anglers who fish Golden State waters).
“I’m going to have to tell every guy who fishes with me now to buy an extra cooler to carry his fish in,” KP says.
And even if you live in, say, Reno, and fish the upper Sacramento or Smith or Klamath, you’re still theoretically bound to keep your fish intact until you get it home. I’m still not sure what “immediate” consumption” means (working on a clarification now), but I do know that anglers aren’t going to wait for 48 hours to fillet their fish if they’re overnighting.
Have you ever been in the upper Sacramento Valley at the peak of salmon season? In August and September? Hello, 100-degree heat.
My condolences to hotel janitors throughout the North State!