State/National/WorldFish Rap

White Sturgeon Harvest Reduced for the 2023-2024 Season

The California Fish and Game Commission enacted emergency regulations on Oct. 11 to reduce the harvest of white sturgeon in state waters. The new rules will reduce the number of fish that can be kept to one per year, reduce the slot limit to 42-48 inches, cap the number of white sturgeon that can be possessed on a vessel at two per day and add seasonal closures to sturgeon fishing in key spawning areas. The new regulations are expected to go into effect in late October or early November following approval by the Office of Administrative Law.

The commission enacted the new regulations following a joint recommendation by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and angling groups. The emergency action was taken in response to long-term declines in adult white sturgeon populations and impacts of a harmful algal bloom (HAB) in the summer of 2022.

“It was a difficult decision to recommend restrictions to another fishery in California,” said CDFW Fisheries Branch Chief Jay Rowan. “The angling community representatives really stepped up by offering deep concessions to help reduce sturgeon harvest and showed, yet again, that they are committed to protecting this resource.”

There are two sturgeon species in California, green sturgeon and white sturgeon. Green sturgeon are listed as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. White sturgeon are listed in California as a Species of Special Concern.

Sturgeon is one of the oldest fish, with fossil records dating back more than 200 million years. Individual white sturgeon can live about 100 years and not start spawning until approximately 14 to 19 years old. Scientists estimate that white sturgeon in the Central Valley only spawn successfully every six to seven years. White sturgeon abundance has declined significantly from approximately 200,000 harvestable fish in 1997 to around 33,000,  based on the recent five-year average.

Sturgeon fisheries in California have closed multiple times due to overharvest.

“Like other long-lived fish that spawn infrequently, sturgeon are susceptible to population declines due to various environmental stressors and overharvest,” said Rowan.

During the summer of 2022, a HAB in the San Francisco and San Pablo bays caused the death of tens of thousands of fish, including at least 864 sturgeon. Most sturgeon experts believe there were likely thousands more killed during the HAB, but they sank to the bottom of the bays and were not counted.

Though harvests will be reduced to one white sturgeon for 2023 and 2024, catch-and-release fishing for white sturgeon still will be allowed with a valid sturgeon report card after one sturgeon is kept except for closures outlined in California Code of Regulations, title 14, sections 5.80 and 27.95.

Fishing for white sturgeon also will be closed seasonally upstream of the Highway 50 bridge on the Sacramento River and Interstate 5 bridge on the San Joaquin River from Jan. 1 to May 31, 2024. This upstream area will re-open to catch-and-release fishing on June 1, 2024, after the spawning season.

Sturgeon Report Cards purchased in the 2023 calendar year remain valid for 2023. All reporting, tag and report card requirements remain in effect. Only one sturgeon harvest tag will be valid. Any remaining sturgeon harvest tags beyond one still in possession for the 2023 calendar year will be invalid for the remainder of 2023 once the new regulations take effect. Anglers who have already harvested one or more fish in 2023 still will be allowed to catch and release sturgeon for the remainder of 2023 with a valid Sturgeon Report Card. The changes to sturgeon harvest regulations may cause a delay in the availability of 2024 sturgeon report cards and the single harvest tag. Report cards for 2024 will be available for sale as soon as possible after Nov. 15 and before Jan. 1, 2024. Sturgeon Report Card requirements will remain in effect for 2024.

CDFW is working on a white sturgeon regulation package for limited harvest. The regulation package is scheduled to go through the commission regulation-setting process with a target effective date of Jan. 2025.

For more information, visit CDFW’s sturgeon web page. Questions can be sent to sturgeon@wildlife.ca.gov.

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