Had it not been for the coronavirus, West Virginia sportsmen would have already had a chance to weigh in on proposed changes to the state’s hunting and fishing regulations.
Ordinarily, Division of Natural Resources officials hold a dozen “sectional meetings” at locations throughout the mountain state, where they solicit hunters’ and anglers’ opinions on the proposals. That didn’t happen this year; the coronavirus scare caused DNR officials to cancel the meetings, which had been scheduled for March 16 and 17.
DNR officials say there’s still a way for sportsmen and sportswomen to let agency officials know how they feel about the proposals.
“What we’ve put in place is a process that’s not as favorable as a face-to-face meeting, but it’s a process we think will work,” said Paul Johansen, the DNR’s wildlife chief.
“Those who would like to comment have a couple of options. The easiest would be to go to our website [www.wvdnr.gov] and click on ‘2020 Sectional Meeting Questionnaire.’ You can download the questionnaire, print it out, provide your comments, and mail it back to us.”
The other option, Johansen said, is to visit the closest DNR office, ask for a questionnaire, fill it out and mail it in. Since some of the decisions will be made at the Natural Resources Commission’s May meeting, comments need to be received by April 3.
Johansen said agency officials would have preferred to hold the 12 meetings, but ultimately decided against it.
“We’re operating in unprecedented times,” he said. “We’re trying to take every step we can to abide by guidelines put forth by the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the World Health Organization. Since meetings tend to congregate people, we thought it was in everyone’s best interest to not go through with them.”
The DNR’s questionnaire outlines each of the 17 proposals — nine related to hunting, seven related to fishing, and one related to collection of reptiles and amphibians. Some of the changes, such as removing a never-enforced size limit for bass at Clay County’s Wallback Lake or extending youth hunting seasons by a day, could be characterized as minor.
Several, however, would make significant changes in the way West Virginians hunt and fish.
One proposal, for example, would add an extra week to the state’s spring turkey-hunting season. The season would still begin on the third Monday in April, but would last five weeks instead of the current four.
Wildlife officials said the extension would provide more recreation for hunters, and would also allow them to take advantage of the second peak of gobbling, which often occurs near the end of May.
Another DNR proposal would establish a 14- to 22-inch slot limit for smallmouth bass on almost the entire length of the New River. A related proposal would remove catch-and-release regulations for smallmouths on a 12-mile stretch of the New between the Interstate 64 bridge at Sandstone downstream to Grandview Sandbar.
Fisheries officials believe the regulation could help create a trophy smallmouth fishery similar to one on Virginia’s stretch of the New, which has similar slot-limit regulations.
Under another proposal, hunters would be allowed to use lights to hunt for coyotes at night year-round. The night season for coyotes currently ends on Aug. 31. Hunters who chose to hunt after Aug. 31 would be required to hunt on private lands, with landowner permission, and would also be required to notify DNR law enforcement officials when and where they planned to hunt.
Another fisheries-related proposal would establish a 30-fish aggregate daily creel limit for panfish such as bluegills, sunfish, crappie, yellow perch and any other fish for which there is no current creel limit. Agency officials said the regulation would end the practice of taking cooler-loads of fish, thus leaving more fish for others to catch.
The final significant proposal would establish a four-fish daily aggregate creel limit and a 15-inch minimum size limit for all of the “true” bass species — white bass, striped bass and hybrid striped bass — along the Kanawha River from the mouth of the Gauley River downstream to the Buffalo Bridge. Fisheries officials said the regulation would help to protect young hybrid striped bass, often mistaken for white bass and removed from the river while still quite small.