Saturday, January 21, 2012

California DFG throws West Coast striped bass under the bus...

Photo from California DFG  website

The striped bass has been an important Northern California fishery for over a century. But since the beginning of massive water exports from the Delta in the 1980s the population has been seriously reduced – along with the historic chinook salmon runs and a number of native Delta species.

Just as the Striped bass in California were showing signs of recovery, the California Department of Fish and Game has proposed new regulations that include...
  • Increasing the daily limit from two stripers to six stripers
  • Lower the minimum size limit from 18” to 12”
  • Establish a South Delta catch limit of FORTY fish per day
  • Allow taking in a number of coastal rivers south of SF Bay that have previously been off limits

If this sounds like a plan to decimate the striped bass fishery, it is. Why?

The problem is the Endangered Species Act, Delta water pumping and the greed of powerful southern agriculture interests.

The ESA has mandated protection of certain Delta species... notably the chinook salmon and the delta smelt. This resulted in curtailing water exports from the Delta, which reduced the amount of cheap water being shipped south to irrigate the crops of agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley.

These agribusiness interests, operating under the benign sounding name of the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, brought suit in Federal court claiming that the reduction in these now endangered species was not due to the 6,633,000 acre feet of being exported out of the Delta system, but was due to the predations of the striped bass – an introduced species that would not be protected under the ESA in California. The fact that the striped bass and other Delta species existed side by side without problems until massive water exports began and that there is almost no scientific data to link striped bass to reduction in native Delta species did not cloud their thinking in the least.

NOTE: To provide a scale for comparison, the 2011 Delta water exports would flood the entire surface of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (10,555 square miles) with a foot of water...

In short, the court ordered the DFG to prepare a 'management plan' that would redress this striped bass “problem”. The DFG responded with it's new proposal in November of 2011. Biology had nuthin' to do with it...
Here are some facts about fish endangered by the Delta pumps feeding the California and Central Valley Water Projects...

The annual export total, including water diverted by the Contra Costa Canal and North Bay Aqueduct, was 6,633,000 acre-feet in 2011 – 163,000 acre-feet more than the previous record of 6,470,000 acre-feet set in 2005, according to DWR data. The annual export total, excluding water diverted by the Contra Costa Canal and North Bay Aqueduct, was 6,520,000 acre-feet in 2011 – 217,000 acre-feet more than the previous record of 6,303,000 acre-feet set in 2005. 

One of the reasons for the record-setting pumping is that much of the water this year went to refill the underground Kern Water Bank, largely controlled by billionaire farmer Stewart Resnick, and to the smaller Diamond Valley reservoir, which serves Southern California,” according to Mike Taugher of the Contra Costa Times. (
Ironically, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California offered water at discount prices in 2011, since southern California reservoirs largely filled. 
'Southern California’s water wholesaler is offering up cut-rate surplus supplies for the first time since 2007, but few local providers can buy in because they are short on storage space,...' according to an article by Janet Zimmerman in the Riverside Press-Enterprise on July 10. (
The record pumping from the Delta – used to fill the Stewart Resnick-controlled Kern Water Bank and southern California reservoirs – resulted in a huge, unprecedented fish kill at the Delta pumps in 2011. Agency staff “salvaged” a total of 11,158,025 fish in the Delta water pumping facilities between January 1 and September 7, 2011 alone. 
A horrific 8,985,009 Sacramento splittail, the largest number ever recorded, were salvaged during this period, according to DFG data. The previous record salvage number for the splittail, a native minnow found only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system, was 5.5 million in 2006. 
The fish “salvaged” at the “death pumps” of the state and federal water projects also include hundreds of thousands of threadfin shad, striped bass, American shad, white catfish and other species. DFG data reveals that 742,850 threadfin shad, 514,921 American shad, 496,601 striped bass and 100,373 white catfish were “salvaged” between January 1 and September 7 of this year. 
Agency staff also “salvaged” 35,560 Sacramento River spring run and fall run chinooks, 1,642 Central Valley steelhead and 14 green sturgeon in the project facilities during the same period. 
While no comprehensive studies have been conducted on how many of the salvaged fish survive, fish advocates believe that the majority of many species perish during and after the salvage process. 
Although the salvage counts are certainly alarming, the overall loss of fish in and around the State Water Project and Central Valley Project facilities is believed to be much greater than the salvage counts. The actual loss could be 5 to 10 times the salvage numbers, according to “A Review of Delta Fish Population Losses from Pumping Operations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta,” prepared by Larry Walker Associates in January 2010 for the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District – Facts researched and assembled by Mr. Dan Blanton

More to come on the latest in sanity of California game management and water policy.


Craig Peters Rising Sun, MD 443-206-1091 said...

We have big Stripers, or Rock Fish as they call them in MD, over here on the right side of the rock. I used to work after college on the Hudson River catching shad to restore the shad run on the Susquehanna River. We would catch 'incidental' catches of Rock fish that were spawning as well. That guy on the left of the picture looks about as tall as me (i.e. short) but one night we caught a female. I held it by the lip up to my nose. It's tail was still laying on the gunnel and it had a shad tail sticking out of it's gullet. I could not wrap my arms around it's belly. I bet it was 57-60" long. I always wondered what it weighed. It's the biggest fish I ever held in my hands. We let it go of course but poached Rock fish might be the best fish I ever had. We have an over flowing fishery here that is quite the recovery success story. When I was a kid they were rare.

California Farm Water Coalition said...

Striped bass is a sport fish that was introduced years ago to the Delta and it also has a ferocious appetite. Claiming that "there is almost no scientific data to link striped bass to reduction in native Delta species" ignores the research that has found juvenile salmon inside the stomachs of stripers. The large numbers of splittail and threadfin shad salvaged at the pumps during the past year was expected by State and federal biologists because of the water conditions. These biologists knew that the overall populations would be great, which also supported opinions to deny protected status to these species under the Endangered Species Act.

Mike Wade
California Farm Water Coalition

Mike Spies said...

MIKE - The apex predator of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are the CVP and SWP diversion pumps. To imagine that, suddenly, after 120 years of striped bass populations (which are now far below historic population numbers) would suddenly become the reason for the precipitous decline of chinook salmon, delta smelt, spit-tail minnows and other native fishes begs credulity.

Aside from destroying tens of thousands of chinook salmon (the official DFG count for May 2011 alone was 14,929 salmon killed and the annual total is 20X the escapement numbers in recent years), the diversion pumps have fundamentally altered the Delta environment - reversing flows, causing salt water incursion, salinization of the Suisun Marsh, warming the Delta waters, and many other effects major and minor.

The plan agreement called for state of the art fish screens years ago - where are they? The water districts have refused to live up to the agreement and refuse to fund them.

The entire Striped Bass Issue is a red herring. If these amended regulations effectively reduce the striped bass population to significantly lower levels, and the salmon and other fishes continue to plummet towards extinction, perhaps agribusiness can find another scapegoat -- like largemouth black bass.