Commission Postpones Adoption of Delta Fisheries Management and Striped Bass Policies

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Dr. David Ostrach, Science Advisor for Allied Fishing Groups & Northern California Guides and Sportsmen’s Association, speaks before the California Fish and Game Commission in Sacramento on December 10. Photo by Dan Bacher.

After hearing from three scientific experts and over 40 Delta and Northern California anglers and guides, the California Fish and Game Commission in a packed meeting in Sacramento on December 11 decided to postpone adoption of a Delta Fisheries Management Policy and potential amendments to the Commission’s Striped Bass Policy to a future meeting.

The next Commission meeting where this issue will be discussed is on February 21,

Commission President Eric Sklar said there was no need to make a motion on the policy at the meeting, but said the stakeholders and Department would continue on their negotiations to come up with a revised striped bass policy.

One thing was made clear in the meeting – while the CDFW, Commission, water contractors, fishermen and scientists are largely in agreement on the Draft Management Fisheries Policy, they disagree whether to set a numerical goal for striped bass recovery in the revision of the striped bass policy.

Hundreds of anglers, including members of the NorCal Guide and Sportsmen’s Association (NCGASA), California Striped Bass Association, and the NCGASA Delta Anglers Coalition, came to the meeting.

The original striped bass policy developed in 1996 set a goal of 3 million stripers, according to Jinn Cox, President of the State Board of the CSBA. He advised against altering the striped bass policy without even knowing what the current population of stripers was.

“No survey of striped bass has been made in 10 years,” he said. “We don’t even know how many fish are out there. Any decision made has to at least have a baseline. Changes to the plan shouldn’t be done willy-nilly.”

The three top experts on striped bass in California – fishery scientists Dr. David Ostrach, Dr. Cynthia LeDoux Bloom and Dr. Peter Moyle – spoke on the need to increase and enhance the population of striped bass, a permanent part of the Delta ecosystem, along with listed fish species. In fact, reducing numbers of striped bass would likely have a negative impact on the ecosystem, according to the scientists.

“I appreciate the efforts of the Commission to develop a holistic fishery management policy for the Delta and for striped bass in particular,” said Dr. Peter Moyle, Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Center for Watershed Sciences, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, UC Davis.

“I encourage you to treat the striped bass as an important member of the San Francisco Estuary system, including the Delta and avoid actions designed to reduce its declining abundance even further. In fact, I encourage you to take steps to increase striped bass numbers because it would reflect a general improvement in the Delta ecosystem.”

“I write this as an academic researcher, professor and author who has studied fishes of the estuary for nearly 50 years, including establishing a Suisun Marsh Monitoring program that has sampled fish on a monthly basis since January, 1979. One of the principal fishes captured in our samples over the decades is striped bass, which has given me an appreciation of their importance to the estuary’s ecosystem.”

“The upshot of all this background is that regulations for managing striped bass should not be aimed at reducing its population but increasing it or at least stabilizing it. We especially need management actions that reduce removal of large fish from the system.”

Dr. Cynthia Le Doux-Bloom, who formerly worked for the CDFW and DWR, mostly studying anadromous salmonids, told the Commission: “It is not defensible to blame striped bass on the collapse of the Sacramento River salmon population. Too many studies have shown that entrainment into the Central Valley and State Water Projects is the major source of fish mortality.”

“It’s interesting to note that the Board of Fish Commissioners, the predecessor to the Fish and Game Commission was formed in 1870 – 150 years ago – the Board of Fish Commissioner’s first laws enacted were to protect the Sacramento River’s declining salmon (California Fish and Game 1933). It is important to note, that the salmon population was first recorded to be in decline a decade prior to the introduction of striped bass,” she stated.

Dr. David Ostrach, Science Advisor for Allied Fishing Groups & Northern California Guides and Sportsmen’s Association,  said, “Those I represent don’t believe there is a need for or resources available within the Department to implement the proposed Delta Fisheries Management Policy. Currently the Department has approximately 30% of the funding necessary to implement its current policies and resource obligations. How would this new policy be implemented with no funding or resources currently available?”

“Those that proposed the initial version of the DFMP (The Coalition for Sustainable Delta and their allies) have no real interest in advocating for fair and responsible public trust fisheries resource policies. Rather they’ve made it clear in recent stakeholder meetings that their motivation is to ‘get more water for their clients.’ The original draft of the DFMP was completely unacceptable and would have likely resulted in the further decline or destruction of striped bass and other recreational fisheries.”

However, we have engaged in very productive meetings with stakeholders, Commission staff and Department staff with the understanding that there will be a DFMP policy adopted by the Commission. We have come to a basic agreement on proposed language for the DFMP. We are committed to continue productive dialogue on outstanding issues. Our hope is that the DFMP will be a policy that insures that all public trust resource fisheries will be managed based on the best available science in a sustainable and holistic manner.”

“Pitting one fishery against another as a cause for fishery populations collapse is a diversionary tactic that has gone for decades and must end. There is no credible scientific evidence that striped bass, Black Bass or any Delta species is responsible for the collapse of the estuaries’ once great fisheries. The overwhelming majority of credible science points to water related issues (e.g. flows, diversions, temperature, water quality), loss of habitat and contaminants as being the major stressors driving the collapse of the estuaries ecosystem and fisheries. The focus of the Commission and State agencies responsible for public trust resources should be on enacting responsible fisheries and environmental policies that ensure the restoration of the Delta ecosystem which would benefit all fisheries.”

NCGASA Board Member and fishing guide Jason Thatcher summed up the feelings of many anglers when he said in his one minute testimony: “It all comes to one thing: which side are going to be on? Are you going to be on the side of the fish or are you going to be on the side of the water contractors?”

After the meeting, Roger Mammon, President of the CSBA, West Delta Chapter, said, “In negotiations we moved ahead with the Delta policy, but still had disagreements with the striper policy. We believe there should be a numerical target, but felt that before the Department could go ahead with revising the policy, they had to do an estimate of the current population of striped bass. There have been no studies on the striped bass population conducted in ten years.”

“The striped bass are safe until the next commission meeting in Sacramento on February 21,” said James Stone, NCGASA president. “Our organization is doing everything we can to help preserve the Delta.”

The move by the CDFW and corporate agribusiness to revised the striped bass policy and remove the numeric restoration goal of 3 million occurs in the context of the campaign by the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, an Astroturf group funded by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the owners of the Wonderful Company, to blame striped bass for the decline of Delta smelt, Chinook salmon and other species when in fact the striped bass is also a victim of the massive water exports from to agribusiness from the Delta.

 

Draft Delta Fisheries Management Policy

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has faced, and continues to experience, declines in pelagic fishes and anadromous salmonids. This policy is intended to guide management decisions that could affect fish species and other aquatic resources. The Delta Fisheries Management Policy is below.

It is the policy of the Fish and Game Commission (Commission) that:

  1. The Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife (Department) shall seek to collaborate and coordinate with other agencies whose actions may affect with jurisdiction over species and other resources in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta) and its tributaries as the Department manages Delta they manage fisheries, state and federally listed fish species, such as salmonids and smelt, and other aquatic resources. The Commission and Department will provide feedback to other agencies on any actions in the Delta that could have significant, adverse impacts to California’s fisheries.
  2. The Commission and Department shall strive to manage these resources holistically, sustainably, and consistent with the direction of the legislature to protect, restore, and enhance the Delta ecosystem.

III. The Department shall rely on credible the best available science (as defined by Section 33 of the Fish and Game Code) to develop strategies and recommendations for managing Delta fisheries. and listed species in the Delta. Using this information, the Department shall strive to improve habitat conditions (such as water temperature for and flows, water quality, and food) and manage other stressors (such as disease, predation and prey availability, and competition) alleviate threats to promote recovery of Delta fisheries (where applicable). listed species.

  1. Recognizing that listed species have highest priority, the Department shall manage Delta fisheries listed fish species to protect and enhance each species’ abundance, distribution, and genetic integrity to support each species’ resiliency and (where applicable) recovery.
  2. The Department shall manage Delta fisheries in a manner that provides for maximizing sustainable recreational angling opportunities while avoiding or minimizing adverse effects to native and listed species, species of greatest conservation need, and recovery activities