In the April-May issue I wrote a news item detailing how an irrigation lobby group using the name Coalition for a Sustainable Delta forced the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to propose harsh new regulations to decrease striped bass populations in the Sacramento Delta. (The printed magazine news story is below.) That issue will be on sale March 1, but already the proposal has been unanimously rejected, and for the time being, striped bass will remain a properly protected gamefish in California.
After voting 4-0 to rejected the propsal at a meeting Feb. 2, the California Fish and Game Commission recieved a standing ovation from a crowd of fishermen and conservationists.
Commission President Jim Kellogg made the motion after speaking passionately about his eyewitness experience with the results of export pumping when he worked from 1966 to 1969 on installing the first pumping station on the South Delta for the State Water Project.
"I was there when Governor Reagan was there to cut the ribbon on the completion of 7 pumps, including 4 big ones and 3 small ones," said Kellogg. When the small pumps were turned on, he witnessed large numbers of fish going into the canal.
"There is more to this than striped bass predation – it's about water pumping and saltwater intrusion in the Delta," he noted. "And invasive species are just as big an issue, not just fish species but plants also."
Kellogg noted that the striped bass and listed salmon and Delta smelt had coexisted for 130 years. He also declared that striped bass are a "native species" in California, since they have been here for so long.
Michael Boccadoro of the Dolphin Group, a spokesman for the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, vowed further litigation if the Commission didn't approve the striper eradication proposal.
"If the proposal is rejected, it only gets kicked backed into the federal courts," said Boccadoro.
Three executives of Stewart Resnick's Paramount Farms in Kern County founded the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta. Resnick is the politically connected Beverly Hills billionaire who has made tens of millions of dollars annually from buying and reselling water back to the public for a big profit.
The Coalition claimed that the striped bass, an East Coast fish introduced to the Sacramento over 130 years ago, should not be protected because the fish prey on protected chinook salmon and Delta smelt.
News Story from the April-May 2012 Issue
The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) in late 2011 proposed sweeping changes to the striped bass regulations in the Sacramento Delta that sport-fishing groups say could dramatically impact striped bass populations. The proposed regulations raise the daily bag limit for striped bass from two to six fish, the possession limit from two to 12 fish, and lower the size limit from 18 to 12 inches.
The stated goal of the proposal is to decrease striped bass predation on endangered salmon and native Delta smelt, but the roots of the proposal reach much deeper. When populations of native species began a precipitous decline in 1999, the Westside Water District and its agricultural interests were threatened by drought, lawsuits from organizations fighting to preserve water, and by federal intervention under the Endangered Species Act.
In response, three executives from Paramount Farms, owned by Beverly Hills agribusiness tycoon Stewart Res-nick, formed and funded the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta—a nonprofit Section 501(c)(5) corporation with a stated goal of "creating a healthy Delta ecosystem."
The coalition brought a $1.5 million lawsuit against the DFG stating that the primary cause for the decline of native fish is not massive water withdrawals from the Delta, but a host of "stressors" including predation by nonnative gamefish species like striped bass. The DFG settled the lawsuit by agreeing to introduce regulations to reduce numbers of one of the Delta's most popular gamefish
"We applaud the Department of Fish and Game for coming together with us to develop a solution to the significant negative impact striped bass have on the Delta ecosystem," said coalition spokesman Michael Boccadoro. "Predation by nonnative species such as striped bass is one of the most clear-cut stressors on endangered Delta fisheries, and addressing this problem is a vital step toward creating a sustainable future for the Delta estuary."
Boccadoro is also president of the Dolphin Group, a PR firm that according to its own web site "has played an integral role in steering public policy debates to the benefit of its clients for more than three decades." Among other clients, the Dolphin Group represented the Philip Morris tobacco company, running the unsuccessful campaign for California Proposition 188—an attempt to counteract clean air ordinances across the state.
The web site and action group water4fish.org says striped bass and native fish have successfully coexisted in the Delta for more than 100 years, and the decline of native fishes did not begin until pumping and agricultural extractions reached unsustainable levels. The group says the regulations are an attempt to "eradicate striped bass" and an "opportunity to once again try to blame the fish and fishermen for the problems in the Delta caused by overpumping. It is a brazen move to undo the public trust doctrine and the rights of the citizens of California to use and enjoy the water and aquatic resources of the state. We need to fight back with every mechanism at our disposal." In late 2011 the web site had collected 80,000 names in a petition opposing not just the regulations, but unhealthy water withdrawals from the Delta.