fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

let my hatchery trout go

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The hard times faces by many rural California communities
might just get harder if the Pacific Rivers Council and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) deem Homo sapiens, like trout, to be an introduced species in high Sierra watersheds.

Four years after filing a lawsuit centered on the idea that stocked hatchery trout and salmon have ‘deeply hurt’ native trout, salmon and amphibians, in a press release issued today the CBD unsurprisingly judges the California Department of Fish & Game’s final environmental impact report (EIR) to be a failure. But reading the naturally strongly worded press release — and without wading through the legalese of the original lawsuit filing — it seems that the CBD’s goals seems nigh unreachable.

In response to lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers Council, the California Department of Fish and Game has released a final environmental impact report analyzing the impacts of stocking of hatchery trout and salmon on native species, including native trout and salmon and amphibians deeply hurt by a century of planting of millions of hatchery fish.

An EIR going back 100 years? We’re all for protecting the environment, but isn’t that reaching a bit much?

The CBD’s approach as perpetuates the piecemeal attempts to save salmon citing a federal study then blowing past the comment about habit quality to focus on hatchery fish.

One federal study concluded that the “longstanding and ongoing degradation of freshwater and estuarine habitats and the subsequent heavy reliance on hatchery production were also likely contributors to the collapse” of salmon stocks. The state’s new report does not propose any specific mitigations to address the impacts of hatchery fish on native salmon stocks.

For catch and release fisherman, the original concept of the lawsuit could have been interpreted as a way to protect wild trout populations from their hatchery cousins. And while the yellow legged treefrog was the poster amphibian for the CBD lawsuit, the lawsuit encompasses 36 ‘imperiled’ species in 47 streams, rivers and lakes. It’s not hard to remember the last time a fisherman bragged about that unarmored threespine stickleback or hard head minnow. It didn’t.

The pullback in DFG stocking could easily amplify the current economic slump in communities that have benefited from stocking. It’s ironic that on the same day of the CBD published its press release that Alpine County’s Markleeville was used as an example in the aforementioned San Francisco Chronicle article regarding the economic reality in rural California communities.

Markleeville is a jumping off point for a good many fishable streams, rivers and lakes, some stocked and some not. The Chronicle covered the community’s hardship from an economic standpoint. Back in November, the Sacramento Bee reported on Markleeville’s response to the elimination of Alpine County lakes and streams from the DFG stocking list:

So when the state Department of Fish and Game this week released a list of lakes and streams that won’t be stocked with fish until at least 2010, it landed in Alpine County with a thud. “These waters are our economy,” said Skip Veatch, an Alpine County supervisor and its former sheriff. “If they are not populated our economy is going to go down the drain.”

And a blogger for Bakersfield.com reported on the dramatic and immediate impact of the Dec. 30, 2008, compromise on stocking that prevented stocking of fish in water that held certain “species of concern.” That meant no fish for a section of the Kern River.

So stocking in the Kern ended a year ago this month.

There was no notice, nothing,” Donna James, who with her husband runs Camp James on the Kern River near Kernville, said. Almost overnight, she said, fishing dried up — and then so did her business.

Some businesses in the Kern River Valley saw as much as a 40 percent decline, said Jim Hunt, former president of the Friends of the Hatchery, the Kern River hatchery that farms the rainbow trout Fish and Game uses to stock the river.

I’ll admit to periodically enjoying some waters that regularly used to receive hatchery trout, particularly when snow blocks routes to high Sierra streams. I’m also all for easing pressure on existing wild and native trout populations. However, in my opinion, Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center, misses the mark himself when it comes to the recreational aspects of fishing.

Fish and Game has missed the mark with this review, which fails to consider alternatives that better meet their mission to conserve native wildlife,” said Greenwald. “On top of that, it’s questionable whether the current fish-stocking program effectively provides fish for recreation or commercial purposes.”

In my small world there are two types of fishermen: those who catch and release, and those who don’t. For the latter, hatchery trout tend satisfy their ‘recreational purposes.’ So, without an ‘appropriate’ level of stocking, am I wrong to worry that fishermen who want to keep their catch might horn in on waters previously left to the eccentric and lone fly fisherman?

Where’s wise Solomon when you need him?

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