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Groups petition state to address predatory fish in Delta

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

Published on June 14, 2016 2:25PM

A striped bass emerges from water. Farm groups have joined with conservation groups in petitioning California’s Fish and Game Commission to address the problem of non-native bass feeding on endangered fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, further imperiling the smaller fish and leading to more pumping restrictions.

Courtesy of West Coast Advisors

A striped bass emerges from water. Farm groups have joined with conservation groups in petitioning California’s Fish and Game Commission to address the problem of non-native bass feeding on endangered fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, further imperiling the smaller fish and leading to more pumping restrictions.


SACRAMENTO — Two farm groups have joined a broad coalition that wants the state Fish and Game Commission to address the issue of non-native, predatory fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The California Farm Bureau Federation and Western Growers have teamed with water districts and conservation groups to petition the state body, asking that fishing controls for several types of bass be loosened or lifted.

The groups say invasive black bass, striped bass and other predators are feeding on threatened and endangered salmon and smelt, which are native to the Delta region. From the farm groups’ perspective, solving the predation problem could lead to the easing of pumping restrictions that have deprived growers of needed surface water in recent years, said Cory Lunde, Western Growers’ director of strategic initiatives and communications.

“Obviously our primary interest is seeing that our farmers in the San Joaquin Valley receive adequate supplies of water to water their crops,” Lunde said. “We’re asking that the government consider other stresses impacting the health of smelt and salmon populations and not just resort to turning down the pumps.”

Other petitioners include the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, the California Chamber of Commerce, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, the State Water Contractors and other water agencies and organizations.

Fish and Game Commission officials did not return a call from the Capital Press seeking comment about the petition.

Michael Boccadoro, a spokesman for the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, said he expects the commission to take up the petition at a future meeting and direct employees to study alternatives.

“This is a process that the commission has put in place to address these sorts of issues,” Boccadoro said. “Ultimately it’s up to the commission.”

Predation has been named as a factor in the continued decline of imperiled fish such as winter-run chinook salmon and Delta smelt. Despite the tiny fish’s federal listing in 1993, a key index for smelt abundance hit zero last year for the first time since the survey began in 1959. Surveys for the smelt this year have found fewer than a dozen fish.

The smelt and salmon have been at the center of bitter water fights among farmers, cities, fishing groups and environmentalists for two decades. The discord escalated during the drought, as no federal water was made available to south-of-Delta farms lacking senior water rights in 2014 and 2015.

The petitioners point to efforts that are already in place to protect endangered salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia River from being preyed on by non-native bass, walleye and catfish. The Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife agencies removed size and bag limits of the predators.

The groups want California to take a similar measure while also implementing a comprehensive monitoring program to learn more about the predation problem and make adjustments as needed.

“They have to,” Boccadoro said. “All the other Western states, at the peak of the drought last year, took action to address predation. As native species are in decline, if the state isn’t taking all the steps they need to take to protect species, we’re going to have issues.”



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