The weather may indicate the opposite, but for many in the fishing community, it feels like spring all over again – politically speaking.
Earlier this year, a trio of lawsuits, one of them filed by the Center of Biological Diversity (CBD), challenged the findings of an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) conducted by the state’s Department of Fish and Game (DFG).
The court-ordered EIR, a joint state-federal document, required the DFG to evaluate and clear “all conceivable impacts between stocking and [88 species of] native fish, recreation, birds and amphibians,” The EIR was approved by the courts on Jan. 11. (CBD lost a February appeal of the approval.)
A compromise between DFG and CBD may have been reached in the meantime while the lawsuits are in process. The compromise would amend certain requirements affecting fish farm operators. It would still require studies of stocking impacts on various species.
The CBD has long claimed that planted trout eat the same insects as several species of birds and frogs. Readers may recall the storm that swirled around the willow flycatcher, which was thought at the time to be the cause of delays in stocking numerous area lakes.
Proposed new regulations are expected to be discussed at a state meeting on Nov. 18 and possibly adopted on Dec. 16 when the DFG convenes in Santa Barbara. Essentially, the affected counties, 37 of them, may lose exceptions for stocking permits, and would be required to conduct studies to obtain them, should those exceptions be removed.
During last Monday’s Mono County Fisheries Commission meeting, Mono County Director of Economic Development Dan Lyster indicated that any potential decision may not apply to Mono and Inyo counties. Of the 87 wildlife species listed in the EIR, only seven reportedly live in Mono County. Impacts on those species have been dealt with to the DFG’s satisfaction.
Lyster said errant reports of required EIRs, however, were greatly exaggerated. He said the data required would more closely resemble “evaluations.” That was supported by DFG’s Bill Cox in an email. “Requiring an EIR is nothing I have ever heard of as being a requirement,” wrote Cox.
DFG covered the cost of the court-ordered EIR and subsequent inspections of Mono County, Lyster recalled, though it is (at least for now) a bit murky in terms of who pays for what if the new regulations are adopted. “We don’t even know if that will happen,” Cox said in his e-mail.
If the regulations are adopted, private individuals would need to: apply for a stocking permit, provide evidence that sources of fish are free of disease (annually) and free of invasive species (quarterly) and that no “decision species” are present. Here’s where the potential expenditures may come in to play:
The landowner “may be required to hire a [non-DFG] biologist to conduct surveys.” If anything is present, the DFG proposes three alternatives: 1.) Don’t stock. 2.) Provide evidence that stocking will do no harm to the species in question. 3.) Write and manage an aquatic biodiversity management plan to ensure that there is some benefit to the decision species.
Cox’s e-mail went on to say that the landowner will be responsible for the cost of some of the above expenses, and further acknowledged there could be a chance that the individual will not be able to stock.
On its site, www.savecalfishing.org, the California Association of Recreational Fishing (CARF), a fishing advocacy group, said it’s been told by the DFG that owners of such bodies of water can expect to be a host to one of the “decision” species that might well result in denial of a stocking permit. The new regulations would, CARF says, remove the stocking permit exemption for eight common pond species in 37 counties, those being in the Central Valley and Southern California.
Mono County Counsel Marshall Rudolph suggested not drawing conclusions about what may or may not be in the new regulations. Rudolph pointed out that in spite of all the e-mails and media coverage, no one has seen the actual language yet.
A vote on releasing the language of the proposed changes to existing protocols was expected by the end of this week. Rudolph said there are a couple of sections he’ll be watching for, but said it appears Mono County will be alright.
Deja vu … all over again
As one of the most visible figures in the state’s fish farming industry, Tim Alpers, whose family can trace its fishing business roots back to at least the 1920s, thinks pro-activity is warranted. “The concerns are justified,” he said. “If any new regulations come forward, we’ll be better able to handle them as a result of the willow flycatcher thing in the spring. The DFG’s already done a lot of work here, but the willow flycatcher may just be the tip of the iceberg.”
Alpers said he thinks new regulations could require new studies, for example on red- and yellow-legged frogs. He’s also wary of possible expanded certification from annually to quarterly. “And we may have to present certification to show we’re invasive species-free for quagga mussels and so on,” he added. All that, Alpers said, would be costly.
“We may also have to hire a consultant for an Aquaculture Water Management Plan, and I’m not sure who in the Eastern Sierra is qualified to do that,” Alpers observed.
He also takes issue with the CBD’s assertions about the fish and bird being attracted to the same bug food source. “I’m not seeing the science to support it,” he said, an opinion unchanged since April.
On a positive note, Alpers said he’s “pleased to see the County making this a priority.” Alpers points to the long-running fishing enhancement program (21 years so far in Mono County, and since 1986 in Mammoth Lakes) as a cornerstone of Mono County’s economy that he said needs to be defended. “Lots of businesses suffered during all the delays in the spring … I don’t want to see that happen again.”
In other words, as Lyster put it, “The sky may be falling, but not necessarily on Mono County.”