California: Striped Bass Policy Adoption

Contact: Aoibheann Cline, Western States Coordinator 

On February 21, the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) adopted an updated Delta Fisheries Management Policy and updated Striped Bass Policy to the displeasure of the recreational fishing community. The adoption of these policies was heard before the Commission and postponed from the August and December meetings by the Commission over unresolved negotiations between the stakeholder groups. 

The proponents of the updating of these policies are interested in diverting water away from the Delta fishery for municipal and agricultural uses outside of the Delta region. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), and the recreational fishing community as a whole, were heavily engaged in the process of the updating of these policies to ensure that habitat for sport fish (both native and non-native) was appropriately considered, and did not unjustifiably misdirect the blame for threatened and endangered species population declines to the Delta’s non-native and popular sport fisheries, especially striped bass. 

The recreational fishing community called for the Striped Bass Policy to include language that would require the Department of Fish and Wildlife to “restore and enhance” the striped bass fishery of the Delta, as it had been required to do since the adoption of the Striped Bass Policy in 1996. In order to ensure a healthy and sustainable recreational striped bass fishery could exist in the future, the recreational fishing community requested that the Commission include a measurable objective population target to achieve this goal. To support these requests, the recreational fishing community put forth the leading scientists on striped bass management in the Delta who were successful in dissuading the Commission to not repeal the Striped Bass Policy, as originally requested by proponents. 

Additionally, the recreational fishing community also brought forth legislative support for their stakeholder version through continued engagement and comment letters endorsed by all 11 members of the Delta Caucus, including the Outdoor Sporting Caucus Co-Chair Senator Bill Dodd, former Caucus Co-Chair and current member Senator Jim Frazier. The recreational fishing community  received support of the Delta Protection Commission, a state agency dedicated to protect, maintain, enhance and enrich the overall quality of the Delta environment and economy through a focus on agriculture, heritage, recreation, and natural resources while remaining mindful of the importance of the Delta to all Californians. The recreational fishing community also brought forth the support of Delta Chambers of Commerce, local businesses and homeowners associations focused on the economic importance of striped bass fishing to their respective communities. 

At the February meeting, the recreational fishing community’s support for the adoption of the Delta Fisheries Management Policy was contingent on the requests for inclusion of “restore and enhance” language and a measurable objective population target in the Striped Bass Policy. Despite the incredible effort and support, the Commission adopted a version of the Striped Bass Policy that does not require the Department of Fish and Wildlife to restore and enhance the striped bass population that was acknowledged to be in dire decline. The Commission merely directed the Department to “monitor and manage” the fishery, words that the recreational fishing community has argued could be interpreted to permit inaction. Additionally, the Commission declined to include a measurable objective population target in accordance with professional best fisheries management practices.  

James Stone, President of the Nor Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association (NCGASA), helped lead the recreational fishing community efforts on the updating of these policies. “On behalf of the 4,500 sportsmen and women and guides that NCGASA represents, I am disappointed in the Commission for not sticking up for guides and businesses in the Delta, by failing to listen to the most credible scientists who showed predation is not a limiting factor on salmon smolt survivability,” said Stone. He points out that two of the top five reasons California Department of Fish and Wildlife encourages anglers to purchase a fishing license are striped bass and black bass, and predicted a further decline in fishing license sales as angler opportunity will become even more limited under this new regulatory framework.

CSF submitted public comment letters and testimony at the August, December and February meetings and participated in the frequent stakeholder meetings on behalf of recreational fishing interests. CSF also launched a social media campaign to urge anglers to attend the meeting and submit public comment letters to the Commission. 

Following the adoption of these policies, CSF’s Western States Coordinator, Aoibheann Cline, presented the decisions of the Fish and Game Commission to members of the California Striped Bass Association (CSBA), at their March meeting. CSBA is another recreational fishing organization that was heavily involved in the stakeholder process on behalf of recreational anglers, whose efforts were led by Jim Cox, President of CSBA. 

CSF is committed to the protection and promotion of recreational fishing based on the best available science and will continue to monitor the implementation of any changes the updates to the Delta Fisheries Management Policy and Striped Bass Policy may bring for Delta anglers. 

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