Finally some good news, just in time for the holidays: The California Fish and Game Commission shot down proposed Department of Fish and Game regulations on private hatcheries and privately stocked lakes that would have forced most of them to close their doors, reducing the quality and availability of sportfishing throughout the state.
The commission on Dec. 15 unanimously rejected a DFG proposal that would have required a wide range of biological assessments before they could plant fish from their hatcheries, or before lake managers could have fish planted. A broad-based coalition of sporting, business and conservation groups was on hand to urge the commission to turn down the DFG’s plan.
It became clear the DFG was coming up with an expensive solution for a problem that didn’t exist.
Ever since the DFG was hammered in court for its own hatchery program failures three years ago, its staff has been writing a court-mandated environmental document on how its hatcheries should be managed to protect native species while still providing public recreation. Nowhere in the lawsuit was the DFG directed to include private hatcheries or fishing lakes in its effort, since those facilities are already governed by rules enacted by the legislature.
When private hatchery owners and lake operators (including many city and county parks) starting looking at the costs involved in complying with the DFG’s complex set of new rules, they found the environmental work would average around $130,000 per year. One large Southern California catfish-rearing facility estimating its costs would be close to $1 million, after contacting a number of private biologists and environmental firms for an estimate on getting the required work done.
Most hatchery and private lake operators said they would have to shut down, resulting in losses of hundreds of jobs across the state and reducing the number of public recreation opportunities available in California. Yet, the DFG staff had repeatedly said the new expenses would be minimal.
“What you presented here today is a nonstarter,” Commissioner Dan Richards of Rancho Cucamonga told the DFG staff during the meeting. He also said the DFG staff didn’t provide any compelling reasons why the new regulations were necessary — and that they were over-reaching.
Currently, private hatcheries and fishing lakes in 37 counties, including most in the southern half of the state, are exempt from the same regulations that govern DFG facilities. Fortunately, those rules will remain unchanged — for the time being.
Even the parties suing the DFG over its state-run hatcheries didn’t ask for this proposed regulation scheme — and the judge in the lawsuit didn’t ask for this. The DFG staff, for some reason, simply decided to “throw private industry under the bus,” according to one hatchery operator.
The DFG staff lumped private facilities with the state facilities in the new environmental impact report. According to the document, all of these facilities — from private hatcheries to stock ponds, and from homeowners associations with their own lakes to county park lakes and even golf course ponds — would have been required to conduct biological surveys to determine what endangered or “decision” species might or might not exist in their water.
They also would have been required to test to determine if the fish being planted in the lake or grown in the hatchery have any diseases, or if invasive species such as New Zealand mud snails or quagga mussels are present. The invasive species testing would have to be done quarterly, and all surveys and tests would have to be done annually — and at the expense of the lake or hatchery owner.
How the DFG came to the conclusion that the testing for all its new proposed requirements would be “minor” was a mystery. Why they included private hatcheries and private, city and county waters at all is a bigger mystery.
When the new rules were first put before the Fish and Game Commission nearly two years ago, the regulation scheme was listed on the agenda as a mere “consent item,” with no public comment or discussion allowed for — almost as if the DFG wanted to get the new rules quietly approved before anyone even knew what was happening.
This is alarmingly similar to the way the Marine Life Protection Act regulations have been implemented. But unlike that debacle, the Fish and Game Commission got the vote right on this one. At least for now.