June 9, 2016
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – A broad statewide coalition of business, farming, and water users petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission today, asking the Commission to address predation of endangered salmon and smelt by non-native predator species. The petitioners include: Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, California Chamber of Commerce, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, Southern California Water Committee, State Water Contractors, Western Growers Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, Northern California Water Association, and Kern County Water Agency. The petition comes on the heels of recent reports showing declines in native endangered species.
“California families, businesses and farms have sacrificed considerably during this drought to provide water to help preserve salmon and smelt,” Coalition for a Sustainable Delta spokesperson Michael Boccadoro stated, “Modifying size and bag limits for striped bass and black bass is an important next step to better protect and begin restoring these endangered species. It is clear that more needs to be done to halt the continuing declines.”
Predation of endangered and threatened fish, including Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, delta smelt, and Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, by non-native striped bass and black bass is well documented. Recent reports by state and federal fish agencies indicate that bass consume an enormous volume of fish, including listed species such as Winter-run Chinook salmon and delta smelt. Predation ranks among the top stressors for Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, and Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon in threat assessments by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
While state regulators have focused narrowly on increased flows and water pumping restrictions, predation by non-native species has gone largely unaddressed. By decreasing the size limits and increasing the take limits for these predators, the California Fish and Game Commission can better protect endangered species and help stabilize water supplies for millions of California families, farms, and businesses.
Over the past few months, water pumping restrictions have resulted in more than 1 million acre feet of water being flushed to the ocean as part of an effort to protect endangered and threatened species. Increased flows over the past decade have clearly not solved the problem as endangered salmon and smelt continue to decline.
“The protection of native threatened and endangered fish should be the top priority of the Commission. The ongoing management of non-native, predatory game species needs to be carefully re-thought if we are serious about recovering salmon in California,” said David Guy, President of the Northern California Water Association. “We know that salmon need a safe environment to grow and thrive in our river systems. Any additional steps that can be taken to limit predation should be taken immediately if we want to protect and recover salmon and other endangered species.”
The petition is based on proactive actions taken by other western states. In recent years, Washington and Oregon have both utilized this common sense approach to reduce the impacts of predation. The Columbia River, running through both Washington and Oregon, is home to federally endangered salmon and steelhead populations that are preyed upon by non-native bass, walleye, and catfish. Removal of size and bag limits of these predators was first implemented by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2015, and more recently approved by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in coordination with Washington’s efforts to protect endangered salmon and steelhead.
As native, at-risk species continue to decline, the state is running out of time to improve salmon, smelt, and steelhead populations. It is of crucial importance for the Fish and Game Commission to begin addressing predation and its continuing impact on endangered populations. This petition is a measured first step to begin reasonably and effectively identifying ways to limit predation. Petitioners have requested that the Commission and Department implement it in conjunction with a comprehensive monitoring program to fully understand the implications of efforts to address predation and allow for adjustments to be made as learning occurs. Such an approach will allow state regulators to adapt and effectively manage the effort to ensure success.