A group of Yolo County farmers and landowners, all members of Reclamation District 307, are attempting to ban shore fishing access to the Sacramento River on the one of the most popular and heavily used stretches of the river.
The area slated for the proposed ban is the 1-1/2 mile stretch from 2-1/2 miles north of the Freeport Bridge to Pumphouse Road near Clarksburg. Although fished year round for a variety of species, this area is known for the large numbers of salmon caught here in the summer and fall by shore anglers from throughout northern California.
While farmers argue that the ban is necessary to stop unsafe, congested parking conditions and litter along this section of river, anglers counter that they have the right to park on turnouts along the public road and are doing everything they can to police themselves.
“Anglers like myself spend our whole summer, after the salmon opener on July 16, through October, bank fishing for salmon on the Sacramento,” said Mike Wong of Sacramento. “We should do everything we can to keep the river open to fishing. There are not many places close to Sacramento where you can find decent salmon fishing from the bank. The Yolo County side is much better for fishing because it’s deeper.”
Wong and other anglers are backed by Article 1, Section 25 of the California State Constitution that guarantees the public the right to fish the waters of public properties within the state. Article 10, Section 4, further expands fishing rights by providing the right to access and fish “all navigable waterways within the state,” irrespective of any private ownership claims to the river or lake bed. By denying anglers access, the Reclamation District is denying them their constitutional rights to fish the Sacramento, a navigable river.
Pete Dwyer, Secretary Trustee of the Reclamation District, said the main reason for the proposed fishing access closure is public safety. “The cars and trucks are stacked up along the levee, particularly during the spring shad run and summer and fall salmon run,” he explained. “We have counted up to 134 cares from the Freeport Bridge to Clarksburg at one time.”
The county road has lots of traffic, with over 2500 cars per day. Although posted for 45 mph, the average speed of the vehicles is 63 mph. With the combination of vehicle traffic, bicycles, fishermen parking and exiting from the road side of the levee and farm equipment, the possibility of a disastrous accident looms, according to Dwyer.
“Although the main problem is safety, we also have to consider the liability problem,” added Dwyer. “In the event of a catastrophic accident, the landowners, Reclamation District and Yolo County will be held responsible.”
Littering, trespassing and deterioration of the levees are other problems that they are encountering as anglers ingress and egress the river.
Dale Hayes, owner of Romeo’s Bait and Tackle in Freeport, admits the farmers have “some legitimate issues,” but he doesn’t believe that banning fishing doesn’t address them.
“The reality is that there are parking problems along the levee, with hundreds of cars between Freeport and Clarksburg during the height of the salmon season. Some landowners have even created parking lots. However, regarding littering, the answer is to give out littering tickets, not to ban fishing,” said Hayes.
The issue reared its ugly head when the Reclamation District sent a prototype sign to Yolo County to be printed, in effect making Yolo County the enforcer. “The prototype sign said, ‘No Hunting, No Fishing, No Parking, No Trespassing,'” said Hayes. “However, the County had a problem with the no parking problem.”
An anonymous member of Reclamation District 307 said in a Sacramento Bee article on August 14 that they were seeking the ban because of the difficulty in moving farm equipment along the levees because of parking congestion and because of the “incredible mess” that anglers were leaving. Furthermore, the anonymous source added, “And they tear up the levees with their trucks and four-wheel-drive cars.”
Wong noted that littering occurs wherever you go along public roads and anglers are doing their best to keep the areas clean. “At least down at Freeport they pick up garbage and encourage other anglers to put their garbage in the cans,” said Wong. “And if they’re so concerned about littering, the local law enforcement can issue tickets,” said Wong.
Regarding the tearing up of the levees by 4 wheel drives, Wong noted that “If an angler in a 4 wheel drive truck drives down the levee, there is no way to get it out without a tow truck.”
What’s the solution? Dwyer suggested that the way to solve safety and other problems is to possibly have the landowners create parking lots, with bathrooms and garbage cans, to keep less anglers from congestion on the levees.
“I realize a lot of the anglers are good, right and just people and care about the environment,” said Dwyer. “It’s a small percentage of folks who screw things up for the rest.”
Paul Simmons, the lawyer who represents 307, declined to comment on the legality of the proposed ban. “I’m not familiar with their proposal yet and I didn’t learn about it until I read about it in the newspaper,” he stated.
Some sort of solution has to be found that addresses the safety, littering and other issues. Banning fishing is not a viable solution because it violates the public’s right to fish the waters of all navigable waterways within the state, as guaranteed under the California Constitution.
A meeting of fishermen, members of Reclamation District 307 and County officials to develop solutions other than banning bank fishing would be a good start. The County and landowners should team up to develop parking lots along the river, complete with garbage can and outhouses. This would help to alleviate the parking and littering problems, making the river a safer and cleaner spot to fish.