February 2015
Volume 6, Issue 4

The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) recently provided the Legislature with an overview and analysis of problems in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the current government efforts undertaken to address these problems.

The report points out that the current Delta governance structure limits the effectiveness of efforts to meet the coequal goals of the Delta Reform Act: water supply reliability and Delta ecosystem sustainability. As an example, the report notes that, under the Delta Reform Act, all regulatory actions by state agencies are exempt from being consistent with the Delta Plan. In other words, state agencies are allowed to work at odds with each other and in a manner that is potentially inconsistent with efforts to restore the troubled Delta.

A “hypothetical” example is provided in the report:

For example, the state Fish and Game Commission, which regulates fishing and hunting, could approve regulations that restrict the number of predatory nonnative fish that can be caught in a season. This could result in an increase in these populations and, consequently, a decrease in native fish species that are preyed upon by the nonnative species.

Unfortunately, the example is not in any way a hypothetical. The situation described by the LAO is very real and damaging to efforts to protect endangered salmon and delta smelt in the Delta.

The Fish and Game Commission has approved regulations that restrict the number and size of predatory non-native fish (specifically, striped bass and black bass) that can be caught. This completely nonsensical policy results in more non-native predators and, consequently, a decrease in the native fish species that we are spending time, money and billions of gallons of water trying to protect.

In 2013, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended a science-based plan that would increase size and bag limits on non-native striped bass, in turn, reducing the known effects of predation on native and endangered salmon and smelt. That plan was supported by the Delta Stewardship Council, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but the appointed California Fish and Game Commission rejected the plan out of hand rejecting the Department’s recommendation to even study the proposal.

As a direct result, striped bass, protected by state regulations, continue to feast on declining salmon and smelt populations.

The report concludes that the Legislature can improve the likelihood that objectives in the Delta will be realized by offering additional guidance on many aspects of Delta policy. Few issues are more clear and straightforward than predation. It is one of the many areas where the Legislature can and should act immediately to provide guidance by eliminating counterproductive policies that protect non-native species at the expense of native species.