New striped bass regulations are a step toward improving the Delta

By: Matt Mahon/Coalition for a Sustainable Delta
-A +A

The California Delta ecosystem is in trouble. Native fish populations have declined significantly in recent years and if the status quo is maintained, further declines are sure to follow. As a result, multiple plans and actions are underway to address the problems in the estuary, including impacts associated with state and federal water pumps, partially treated sewage, pesticides and other contaminants from storm water discharges, and invasive species, to name a few. The Department of Fish and Game has also unveiled a proposal that would address another of these stressors: predation by striped bass.

Some Bay-Delta sport-fishing groups are up in arms about this proposal. They have launched a no-holds-barred misinformation campaign to attack a simple, common-sense and overdue solution to the impacts of predation by non-native striped bass on endangered native salmon and smelt. Their efforts are shortsighted and could cost the state an opportunity to adopt a sensible, scientific and balanced solution to helping protect salmon and smelt, without eliminating the striped bass fishery in the Delta.

Biologists from the state and nation’s leading fishery management agencies have proposed a plan to reduce the legal size (from 18 to 12 inches) and increase the catch limit (from two to six) on striped bass in most areas of the Delta. The proposal is a joint effort of the California Department of Fish and Game, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is designed to reduce known predation on salmon and Delta smelt.

Simply put, protecting the population of an invasive species over the interests of native endangered salmon is an irresponsible and nonsensical concept.

Fishing advocates like to argue that striped bass are not the only problem and are being used as a scapegoat, but striped bass are one of the many stressors, ALL of which must be addressed if we are to achieve a truly sustainable and healthy Delta.

The bottom line is that striped bass are PART of the problem and addressing predation needs to be PART of a comprehensive solution. The proposal by the Department of Fish and Game represents a balanced and thoughtful solution that was achieved through settlement of litigation brought by the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta. At its February meeting, the Fish and Game Commission will be deciding whether to move forward with an environmental review of the proposal.

The proposed regulations must be recognized for what they are: an opportunity to achieve a responsible, scientific solution to a difficult issue. The proposed changes provide the Fish and Game Commission with an important opportunity to reduce predation without completely eliminating the Delta’s striped bass.

Let’s hope common sense prevails in the spirit of achieving a long-overdue and sustainable solution for the Delta.

December 9, 2011