PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is closing recreational hunting and fishing to non-residents to limit travel in a bid to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
As of Friday at 11:59 p.m., non-residents will no longer be allowed to participate in recreational hunting, fishing, crabbing and clamming in Oregon.
The restriction will remain in effect until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and it is deemed safe to travel into Oregon, ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy told KOIN 6 News.
“We’ll be in line with the governor’s recommendations of when it’s safe to lift the restrictions of the ‘Stay home, save lives’ order,” she said.
The decision comes after ODFW received concerns from rural communities about people visiting for hunting or fishing and using their limited resources.
In addition, the department had received an influx of calls from non-residents inquiring about plans to come to Oregon to hunt or fish.
“Rural communities are concerned about the potential impact of COVID-19 on medical and emergency services, search and rescue and their citizens. Some have asked us to close seasons to reduce travel,” said ODFW Director Curt Melcher in a statement.
Melcher said ODFW prefers to keep seasons open to give locals an outlet during this difficult time, but that’s not a pass to travel to rural communities to do so. He urged people to stick close to home and fish at your local lake, pond or river. Melcher asked for Oregonians to not go crabbing or clamming unless they already live on the coast, and then only to places where access is still open.
Monitoring by ODFW field staff showed state residents slowed their participation in fishing, clamming, shed hunting and wildlife viewing.
“We’ve been looking for social distancing. And it’s happening. Anglers are paying attention to social distancing and they’re staying six feet from each other. The same thing for the most part with the crabbers and clammers that we saw over this past weekend,” Dennehy said.
At the same time, the field workers also observed out-of-state license plates and out-of-state angling and shellfish licenses in use.
Washington has closed down its hunting and fishing to help limit the spread of the virus, which means the Columbia River salmon/steelhead fishing co-managed by Oregon is also now closed to Oregon residents.
ODFW expects that non-residents who have already purchased a 2020 license to participate in hunting or fishing may still be able to do so later in the year after restrictions are lifted.
As for spring bear and spring turkey tags, the department will be able to refund those non-resident customers through its licensing division at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-947-6101.
For Jeff Keightley, a fishing charter owner in Astoria, those out of state visitors were once his livelihood. Though he’s struggled tremendously in his business since Gov. Kate Brown’s “Stay at home” order was enacted in mid-March, he was understanding of ODFW’s decision to restrict hunting and fishing for non-residents.
“It’s a good thing for the local fishermen because we don’t have people from Washington coming over. Bad thing for the Washington local fishermen, I suppose,” he said.
Keightley explained the new ODFW restrictions won’t affect his business because “business is already shutdown until the governor’s non-essential travel ban has ended.”
“For right now, it doesn’t affect me. It shouldn’t affect any guides or charter boats, they already aren’t running trips or shouldn’t be,” he said.
This time of year is usually when Keightley’s business, Astoria Fishing Charters and Guide Service, starts ramping up. But this year, he’s had to close up shop.
“March 22 was the last day I took people fishing. So this is devastating. I can’t work. I filed for unemployment, haven’t heard anything back,” he said.
Keightley’s situation is complicated by being self-employed, having also applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, he said.
“I don’t know how that’s going to work out for me. It’s not a normal business structure that I run so I don’t know how it’s going to work out.”
Keightley said he worries people may not be as prone to traveling in general after the restrictions are lifted, which would certainly hurt his business.
He said he relies heavily on internet presence, such as ranking high on Google and receiving five star reviews, which then attracts people from all over the country to his business.
“They’re coming to Oregon for a wedding or a graduation. All those things are not happening, there’s going to be way less travel for quite a long time,” Keightley said.
He said normally he sells out his 29-foot custom-welded boat that can seat six every day from mid-May until October. Keightley has been running the business for 11 years.