The Potential Impacts Of COVID-19 To Fish And Game
Published: April 22nd, 2020
By: Eric Davis

While most news that revolves around the COVID-19 pandemic focuses on health (as it should) and the economic impact that it is having and will continue to have, I find myself wondering what impact there will be to fish and game.

The combination of people home from work and children home from school, the need to escape the confines of the house comes up. The question I have is, how much of a difference is there in their efforts. In fisheries research, to be able to compare the number of fish captured at different bodies of water is done used catch per unit effort, or CPUE. One lake may have a ton of fish while the next lake only has a few. So, to catch 100 fish, it may only take an hour at the first lake while it takes 8 hours at the second lake.

My real question is how much of a difference is there in the time put in under the COVID-19 restrictions compared to a “normal” year? If fishing pressure is much higher, what is it going to do to the fishery? What if people are fishing more but practicing catch-and-release, or are more people keeping their catch to put food on the table when they usually release their catch? I understand there is a million questions you can come up with and we may not see the effects for a few years. I also have similar questions when it comes to turkey season, which is right around the corner.

Many states have stopped selling non-resident hunting licenses to discourage travel across state lines. These states will likely see a decrease in the amount of money their Game Management agency will receive next year when Pittman-Robertson Act moneys are distributed. A decrease in nonresident hunters in those states could be positive for the game populations to get a little less hunting pressure for a year. New York has had several poor springs recently, so our turkey population is not as huge as it has been. An increase in hunting pressure could just be an additional stressor. Allowing jakes to survive the hunting season can help increase the number of toms the following year if they can survive the rest of the year. There also could be a negative effect in areas with spring bear seasons. With less bears harvested, there could be an increase in human-bear conflicts.

Currently, New York is still allowing nonresident licenses to be purchased. However, many of the locations that sell licenses are not open. The NYSDEC is encouraging online license sales. Fishing licenses are valid immediately and anglers need to carry their transaction slip on them. Hunters need carcass tags for spring turkey season and cannot hunt without them. It takes about 10-14 days for them to arrive in the mail so hunters who need to purchase their turkey tags should do so immediately.

I recently saw an article online that discussed in a southern state where turkey season is already open, that hunting on public lands was up significantly compared to recent years. This is something that I think we will also see in New York. Not just because Chenango County has a lot of public land, but because of the social distancing guidelines. Typically, I will drive around looking for turkeys to be out in a field in the weeks leading up to turkey season. When I see turkeys, I try to locate the landowner, and ask for permission to turkey hunt on their property. However, I do not think many people would welcome a stranger knocking on their door right now. Especially one wearing a facemask. Something to think of in the future is to get landowner phone numbers so that you can call them to get permission to hunt again. Remember that you should ask landowners every year, do not just assume because you were allowed there last year that you can go back this year without asking.