November 21, 2008

Agreement Reached on Interim Fish Stocking Restrictions

The California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), Center for Biological Diversity, and Pacific Rivers Council have spent the last two weeks developing interim fish stocking restrictions that will be in place until the CDFG finishes their stocking EIR/EIS on January 11, 2010 (see 11/12/08 post for background). According to a press release issued by the environmental groups, an agreement on stocking restrictions was reached this past Wednesday and will likely be finalized by the Court on Monday.

So, how will stocking practices be affected by the order? The agreement states that fish stocking will be suspended during this interim period in (1) water bodies where surveys have indicated the presence of sensitive native fish and amphibian species (e.g., California golden trout, Santa Ana sucker, mountain yellow-legged frog, Cascades frog), and (2) water bodies that have not yet been surveyed for sensitive species. The just-reached agreement adds a few exemptions to this general stocking moratorium, including CDFG-permitted fish stocking conducted by private entities, stocking that is conducted for research or education (e.g., the CDFG Classroom Aquarium Education Program), legally-mandated mitigation stocking (e.g., stocking of salmon smolts below dams), the CDFG anadromous fish enhancement stocking program, and stocking of most artificial impoundments.

The interim stocking restrictions will have minimal impact on the Sierra Nevada for a couple of reasons. First, large portions of the Sierra Nevada are located within national parks (i.e., Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite) where stocking was banned in 1991 (as an aside, these national park waters continue to provide some of the best fishing in the State). Second, nearly all water bodies in the Sierra Nevada were surveyed for sensitive species in recent years and stocking allotments have already been modified to avoid stocking habitats that contain these native species. Outside of the Sierra Nevada, the most obvious impact of the agreement will likely be in northern California (e.g., Trinity Alps) where the CDFG has been particularly slow to improve their outdated fish stocking program and continues to stock trout into habitats containing Cascades frogs and long-toed salamanders. Those practices are now prohibited so we can expect some reductions in the number of water bodies stocked in this area.

These interim stocking restrictions have two important consequences. First, they will limit impacts of stocking on sensitive native species until the completion of the fish stocking EIR/EIS. Second, the interim stocking restrictions will provide additional impetus to the CDFG to keep the EIR/EIS process on track to meet the January 2010 deadline. Without the proverbial kick in the pants that the stocking restrictions provide I suspect that the EIR/EIS process would have dragged on for years. And third, they provide clear evidence of the value of proactive management whereby the CDFG conducted sensitive species surveys at thousands of lakes over the past decade and developed watershed-based management plans to better balance fish stocking practices with the conservation of native species. As a result of this proactive approach, these areas are exempt from the interim stocking restrictions.

Finally, although I see little evidence of this so far I am hoping that these restrictions and the subsequent EIR/EIS will provide an opportunity for the public to take a careful, open-minded look at the CDFG stocking program. Although California's angling public seems to buy the line that more fish stocking makes for better fishing, it is time to scrutinize that paradigm. Evidence to date actually suggests quite a different story. For example, research conducted in the High Sierra showed that most stocked lakes actually harbor self-sustaining trout populations and stocking (conducted at considerable expense) had no effect on trout density. So, in these hundreds of lakes stocking was just a waste of angler dollars. Studies in Montana conducted in the 1960s and 1970s indicated that stocking of catchable trout into rivers and streams actually caused decreases in overall trout densities. Based on the results of these studies, in 1974 Montana stopped all stocking of flowing waters (to large protests from anglers) and the result was drastic increases in trout populations (see Montana Outdoors story for details).

Clearly, a long, hard look at California's fish stocking program is long overdue.

Back to The Mountain Yellow-legged Frog Site.

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