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DFF's Focus on Conservation with Ron Forbes

"It is the glory of the art of angling that its disciples never grow old. The muscles may relax and the beloved rod may become a burden, but the fire of enthusiasm kindled in youth is never extinguished."
---- George Dawson

DFG, Science or Political Expediency?

 Over the last several years, I have attended meetings of the legislature’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee chaired by Jared Huffman of the 6th District. Mr. Huffman is a strong supporter of conservation issues. He has received many awards and recognition for his work in this area. Most recently he won the Byron Sher award for his work in conservation and awards from Cal Trout and Trout Unlimited for his work with wild trout, steelhead, salmon and their habitat. He is has shown himself to be pro fisheries and wildlife and a strong supporter of the environment. However, over the last number of months Huffman has openly voiced his anger with the Department of Fish and Game (DFG). The reason for his criticism is the political nature of DFG at this point. DFG is charged by the State legislature with a mission. That mission is “to manage California’s diverse fish, wildlife and plant resources and the inhabitants upon which they depend, and for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public”. To this end, DFG has also developed seven “Strategic Initiatives” to fulfill their charge by the legislature. The third of these Strategic Initiatives is to “develop a strong water resources program”. Obviously they have abandoned this responsibility, among others. These are some of the reasons for Huffman’s anger with Fish and Game. They are not fulfilling their legislative charge but have become more political instead. Their actions are not based on the best science available for our fisheries but on political expediency.

Case in point: the lawsuit of the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta (CSD) vs. Department of Fish and Game. Interveners with DFG were the California Sportfishing Protective Alliance (CSPA), Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers (NCCFFF), California Striped Bass Association (CSBA) and some Delta water agencies. At issue is CSD’s alleged assertion that Striped bass predation is causing the loss of our salmon fishery. Those who understand the issues involved strongly disagree. CSD asserts the problem can be cured by removing the Stripers from the Delta by vastly increasing the numbers of fish taken and lower the size of the Stripers taken. Instead, of the current size and number limit of fish taken, (two fish of 18 inches or more) the regulation would change drastically. Under the CSD proposed change the loss of Stripers would be drastic. The new limits proposed by DFG in the settlement are:
• Raising the daily limit from 2 to 6 fish
• Raising the possession limit from 2 to 12 fish
• Lowering the minimum size from 18 inches to 12 inches
• Creating a “hot spot” at Clifton Court Forebay adjacent to the waterways in which the daily take will be 40 fish with no size limit
• Changing the regulations for the Carmel, Pesaro and Salinas Rivers to allow harvest of Stripers in these rivers when they would otherwise be closed

These proposed regulations will basically wipe out Striper fishing as we have known it. The proposed regulations are the result of the settlement between DFG and CSD. Rather than aggressively pursuing the case and presenting the science that would show the CSD’s case is not based on fact, the DFG basically cut a political deal and settled out of court. The settlement agreement so angered the NCCFFF, the CSBA, CSPA, and the Delta water agencies that they have refused to sign the settlement agreement. Several weeks before the trial, I spoke with Bill Jennings about the prospects of the litigation and he was anxious to present the science behind claims CSD was making. They, of course, have no facts to back their case. At the Rio Vista meeting, Jennings was quoted as saying that the evidence doesn’t support the conclusion that Striper predation has caused the population levels on salmon and smelt. “We feel that the predation that does occur would be pinned down on the state and federal projects facilities on the Delta. These pumps create dining halls that invite fish in. Now the state wants to execute the fish for entering the dining hall they created.”An interesting way of looking at the state’s problem and their inability to find a way to solve the mess they caused. Rather than DFG protecting the public trust, which is their responsibility, they have folded. Again. And again they have failed in their responsibility to do their job as charged by the legislature. A friend in Restore the Delta has told me that CSD has spent close to $5 million to reach this settlement. Given their history, it is apparent their concern isn’t the protection of the Delta’s fisheries. It’s more get rid of the fish, and then you’ll get rid of the fisherman. Their attempt at a water grab will continue.

In the agreement, the Commissioners of DFG will be asked to accept DFG’s new regulation changes for Stripers. To this end they are holding public hearings around the state. The first was held in Rio Vista mid-November. Because of a pre-existing commitment I was not able to participate. However, the meeting was very well attended by over 350 people who have serious problems with DFG’s political deal. They let DFG know how furious they are with the Department’s lack of support for the Striper fishery in the Delta. The meeting had good coverage from the news media.

Many issues were raised and evidentially DFG’s response was poorly received. Stafford Lehr, Chief of DFG Fisheries Branch, gave a presentation showing what DFG proposed to do. According to an article in Dan Blanchard’s website, the Striper diet data was from the late 1960’s. So much for DFG’s use accurate scientific data!
Many issues were discussed. Some of which were:
• DFG’s lack of protecting the public trust
• DFG’s lack of using the best science available
• Loss of local business if the fisheries are lost
• Moneyed interest (multi-millionaire agribusiness) over local interest
• DFG’s lack of discussing the real loss of the Delta’s fisheries (over- exporting the Delta’s water to South San Joaquin Valley agri-business interests and Southern California urban water users)
• Lack of use of the only real science from UC Davis’


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