By Dan Bacher
In a big victory for fishing groups who were mobilizing for a huge turn out of anglers at the California Fish and Game Commission meeting in Folsom on August 25, Stewart Resnick’s Coalition for a Sustainable Delta Astroturf group and their water contractor allies withdrew their petition to increase bag limits and reduce size limits for striped bass and black bass in the San Francisco Bay-Delta.
According to an official notice on the meeting posted on the Commission’s website, “Please note: The petition number 2016-011 (striped and black bass) has been withdrawn by the petitioners. As a result the Commission will not be taking action on this petition.”
“We won, and it was worth all of our efforts,” said Dick Pool, administrator of Water4Fish, upon hearing of the petition withdrawal. “However we still have Congress trying to pass a non-native fish eradication bill.”
“There is no need to go to the California Fish and Game Commission meeting set for this Thursday,” John Beuttler of the Allied Fishing Groups advised anglers after hearing of the petition’s withdrawal. “The Commission has announced that the Coalition for Sustainable Delta, California Chamber of Commerce, California Farm Bureau Federation, Kern County Water Agency, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Northern California Water Association, San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, Southern California Water Committee, State Water Contractors, and Western Growers have withdrawn their petition number 2016-011 (striped and black bass regulations).”
Michael Boccadoro, the spokesman for the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, told the Sacramento Bee that supporters of the water contractors were “frustrated that they would be allowed only 10 minutes” to present their case before the Commission.
In a statement, the coalition said, “In recent days, Commission staff recommended maintenance of the status quo rather than taking any action in response to the petition to address this issue despite continuing reports showing declines in native endangered species.”
However, it is more likely that they withdrew the petition because of the intense opposition to it by anglers and prominent scientists including Dr. David Ostrach and Dr. Peter Moyle – and the likelihood that the Commission would reject the petition.
In a statement, the Coalition said, “It is clear that more needs to be done to halt the continuing declines, but the Commission has again refused to address the issue. We are not giving up but simply refocusing our efforts.”
On August 18, twenty-one pro- agribusiness legislators sent a letter to the Commission urging support for the petition “to address predation of at-risk fish native to the Delta by non-native predators.”
“As salmon and smelt continue to decline, it is increasingly important for the Commission to take all appropriate action to address predation,” the legislators wrote. (https://sustainabledelta.com/
Legislators signing the letter include Senators Anthony Cannella (District 12), Senator Patricia Bates (District 36), Senator Ted Gaines (District 1), Assemblyman Brian Dahle (AD1), Assemblyman Matthew Harper (AD 74), Senator Bob Huff (District 29), Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang (District 55), Senator Jim Nielsen (District 4), Assemblymember Travis Allen (AD 72), Assemblymember Adam Gray (AD 21), Senator Tom Berryhill (SD 8), Assemblyman Rudy Salas (District 32), Senator Andy Vidak (District 14), Senator Jean Fuller (District 16), Assemblywoman Beth Gaines (AD 6), Assemblyman Frank Bigelow (AD 5), Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula (AD 31), Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (AD 12), Assemblymember Devon Mathis (AD 26) and Assemblymember Bill Brough (AD 73).
The proposed changes would have increased the bag limits and decreased the size limits for black bass and striped bass in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and rivers tributary to the Delta,
The black bass size limit would have been decreased from 12 inches to 8 inches and the daily bag limit would have been increased from 5 fish to 10 fish.
The striped bass size limit would have been decreased from 18 inches to 12 inches and the daily bag limit would have been increased from 2 fish to 6 fish.
Anglers opposed the petition because it would reduce the population of stripers and black bass and not address the real causes of salmon, Delta smelt and other fish declines – water diversions, overpumping and mismanagement by the state and federal governments.
Marko Mlikotin, the executive director of the California Sportfishing League, noted that opponents of the petition included an impressive group of state and national sportfishing and outdoor organizations that wrote the commission on August 11, 2016, challenging the “scienc”e of the misdirected petition,
Several organizations, including the California Striped Bass Association and Water4Fish, launched major letter and petition campaigns that generated thousands of opposition letters.
“California anglers have a voice in the political process, and they were heard loud and clear,” said Mlikotin. “There is a need to find real and meaningful solutions to California’s water shortage, but using junk science to eviscerate Northern California fish populations in order to send more water to Southern California is not a sustainable solution.”
The coalition of sportfishing and outdoor recreation organizations opposing the petition included the Allied Fishing Groups, California Striped Bass Association, California Sportfishing League, American Sportfishing Association, CCA-Cal, Coastside Fishing Club, Congressional Sportfishing Foundation, Water4Fishg.org, Fishing League Worldwide, Bass Conservation and the National Marine Manufacturing Association.
The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) said they were “pleased to announce that striped and black (largemouth and smallmouth) bass, important sportfish species in California, won’t be targeted for eradication as invasive species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its tributaries.”
“Our coalition had science on our side and we were able to show the Fish and Wildlife Commission that all fish need water and this was simply a water grab that sought to make striped bass and largemouth and smallmouth bass the scapegoats for the status of salmon stocks,” said ASA Government Affairs Vice President Scott Gudes.
Representing millions of sportsmen and women nationwide, including tens of thousands in California, the coalition engaged their supporters who sent a clear message to the Commission that this “was a water issue, not a fish issue,” according to the ASA.
“This is a real victory for anglers. But we need to be vigilant. No doubt the agricultural industry that pushed this proposal will be back. Anglers need to stay unified,” concluded Gudes.
Prominent scientists disagree strongly with the contention of Boccadaro and the water contractors that the proposed regulations would help “protect” endangered salmon and smelt, pointing out the lack of any peer-reviewed science backing this claim.
“There is NO new peer-reviewed science that would change anything regarding this issue from the last time they tried the regulation change until now,” said David J. Ostrach Ph.D., Chief Scientist of Ostrach Consulting. “There have been some special interest group directed ‘studies’ by the water contractors and their allies, most of which are bogus or focus on hot spots and then expand that notion to the entire estuary e.g. if they’re eating them en masse at the hotspots, they’re eating them everywhere.”
“Most importantly, predation at hot spots and throughout the Delta has not been shown to affect population levels of salmon or endangered species; it is a lower-level stressor. The biggest predators known to affect population levels of endangered species in the system are the state and federal water project pumping operations, where it’s clearly documented that they’ve killed tens of millions of endangered salmon, Delta smelt, striped bass and any other fish that enters Clifton Court Forebay,” said Ostrach.
Ostrach emphasized that if the Commission ever chabges the regulations so that smaller striped bass are being caught and kept, it would likely cause a decrease in striped bass predation on other fish, such as the inland silversides, that pose a greater danger to salmon and Delta smelt.