Assembly proposes to expand ocean hatchery program

Sportfishing and commercial fishing would be included with the purview of California Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program if AB 1949 becomes law.

SACRAMENTO—A bill proposing to expand the California Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program is making its way through the State Assembly and could alter the way sport and commercial fisheries are managed.

Assembly member Tasha Boerner Horvath, D-Encinitas, introduced Assembly Bill 1949 (AB 1949) on Jan. 17; the bill earned unanimous support in the Assembly on June 10. AB 1949 made it out of the Assembly with a 77-0 vote.

The California Ocean Resources Enhancement Hatchery Program was created to provide basic and applied research on the “artificial propagation, rearing, stocking and distribution of adversely affected marine fish species that are important to sport or commercial fishing in ocean waters south of Point Arguello,” according to language of AB 1949.

AB 1949, if approved by legislators and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, would expand the program to include “any marine fish species important to sport and commercial fishing.”

The bill also proposes to expand the Ocean Resources Advisory Panel and grant the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) authority to solicit nominations for members of that panel.

DFW created the Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program in 1983. The purpose of the program, according to the most recent legislative analysis of AB 1949, was to evaluate “the releasing [of] hatchery-reared fish to restore depleted marine populations.”

“Initially, research was focused on California halibut and white sea bass, however, research eventually focused exclusively on white sea bass due to the depressed condition of the stick and its higher value to the sport and commercial fisheries,” the Assembly Appropriation Committee’s legislative analysis of AB 1949 said.

A comprehensive review of the program was conducted in 2016; it was the first time the program was reviewed. DFW staff suggested a few changes after it concluded the comprehensive review of the California Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatcheries Program. The recommendations spawned Boerner Horvath’s eventual proposal of AB 1949.

AB 1949 also makes clarifications on volunteer assistance through the program.

“The program relies on volunteer anglers to operate the grow-out facilities (pens in the ocean) to assure the fish are healthy and large enough to be released,” the most recent legislative analysis of AB 1949 said. “This bill clarifies that volunteers may be used to operate grow-out facilities, however, the language in the bill goes further and authorizes DFW to accept volunteer assistance for all program operations.”

The proposal is associated with the Hubbard Marine Fish Hatchery in Carlsbad, which is the only saltwater marine fish hatchery on the West Coast, according to the Assembly Appropriations Committee’s legislative staff.

“The goal of the hatchery program is to develop culture techniques for depleted marine fish species and to produce offspring for use in the [Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program],” the legislative analysis out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee stated, quoting Boerner Horvath. “AB 1949 seeks to expand the program to include any marine fishing species for sport and commercial fishing.

“The bill would also update the provisions related the advisory panel to provide for more public participation and stakeholder engagement,” Boerner Horvath’s statement in the legislative analysis continued. “In addition, the bill would also expand DFW’s contracting authority by allowing the DFW to contract with any public or private entity to conduct research projects.”

Boerner Horvath’s bill is currently in the State Senate, where it will be vetted by the Committee on Natural Resources and Water.

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