Clearly responding to public pressure, the state Natural Resources Commission on Sunday reversed decisions that affected catch-and-release fishing regulations on two of West Virginia’s most popular rivers.
In a unanimous vote, the seven-man commission voted to reinstate catch-and-release fishing for black bass on a 12-mile segment of the New River. In a unilateral action, Division of Natural Resources director Steve McDaniel reinstated catch-and-release trout fishing on a 3.2-mile stretch of the Cranberry River.
The New River vote came after several fishing outfitters complained removal of catch-and-release regulations would make clients less likely to pay for guided fishing trips.
Dave Arnold, the former managing partner at Adventures on the Gorge and a former state tourism board chairman, argued in a written comment the catch-and-release regulations “gave us an arrow in our marketing quiver” by providing a segment of river where clients believed they might catch bigger fish.
“Guides pushed for catch-and-release,” Arnold wrote. “They praised the slot limit, and they asked [that the commission] reconsider their removal of [catch-and-release regulations].”
Commissioner Tom Dotson, a physician from Greenbrier County, moved to reinstate catch-and-release regulations on the segment of river between the Interstate 64 bridge at Sandstone downstream to the Grandview sandbar. Without discussion, the commission unanimously approved Dotson’s motion.
The vote did not affect the panel’s earlier decision to impose a slot limit for black bass on the rest of the New River, from its confluence with the Gauley upstream to the Virginia state line. The slot-limit regulation will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021, as planned.
With the New River vote out of the way, McDaniel turned the commission’s attention to the panel’s surprise Aug. 2 vote to remove catch-and-release regulations on the segment of the Cranberry River between the confluence of the river’s North and South forks downstream to the mouth of Dogway Fork.
McDaniel told commissioners he had received complaints from Trout Unlimited and from individual trout anglers, all of whom wanted to see the regulations reinstated. He said the commission’s vote was invalid because the public wasn’t given a chance to comment before the vote was taken.
“I declare the motion null and void,” McDaniel added. “If the commission would like to bring the subject up again and get proper public opinion, it could be reconsidered.”
Commissioner Jeff Bowers moved to have McDaniel put the issue up for public comment on the DNR’s annual hunting- and fishing-regulation questionnaire, which goes out to sportsmen and sporting groups in early spring. McDaniel said no motion was needed, and he would ask DNR personnel to include it on the 2021 questionnaire.
No other regulatory actions took place at Sunday’s meeting, but during his closing remarks, McDaniel said increased hunting- and fishing-license sales during the summer of 2020 has helped the DNR overcome a projected $1 million budget shortfall.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Jim Justice created the shortfall by issuing an order that allowed anglers to fish license-free for more than two months. McDaniel said license sales since then have been brisk, and as of Oct. 17, the agency is running $74,000 ahead of last year’s license-revenue total for the same time period.