Tim Alpers calls industry “a shared responsibility,” presents ideas to combat the sag
When it comes to fishing, few are as passionate, or proactive, about it as Tim Alpers. With fishing season winding down, the noted Conway Ranch fish hatchery co-founder decided to get a head start on bringing to light what he considers problems that need addressing, if the fish farming industry is to survive.
On Tuesday, Alpers gave Mono County Supervisors a highly-charged informational presentation on county fish stocking trends and his take on their possible future impacts.
Compiled by Dr. Tom Jenkins, the study covers an 18-year period between 1991 and 2009, of “Sustaining the Fishing Industry in Mono County – A Shared Responsibility” and features several charts, most of which showed declining amounts of trophy trout. “It’s like everything else in our economy, it’s all trending downward,” Alpers said.
Potential causes he cited included reduced hatchery funding, diversion of license fees to non-fishing projects, higher basic operational costs, New Zealand mud snail impacts, a possible failure to correctly implement AB7 (the Inland Fisheries Restoration Act of 2005), and use of mandated hatchery funds to finance legal defenses against a variety of lawsuits.
“We didn’t end up getting much out of AB7,” he said. Alpers further added his understanding is that the legislature plans to revisit the law and its implementation. Alpers said there were increases in trout program funding, but not enough to offset rising expenses. Costs of fish food, for example, went up 24 times between 2006 and 2010, according to Alpers.
Some solutions Alpers proposed included political pressure to force the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to follow AB7, and conduct independent audits to verify compliance; engaging CSAC (California State Association of Counties) and RCRC (Regional Committee of Rural Counties) to challenge the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in court; accepting U.S. Fish & Wildlife Commission assistance to help develop a larger-scale Lahontan Cutthroat Trout program, and more support for Conway Ranch development.
That last one, he said, entails helping find funding to pay off grants and thereby remove restrictions limiting the operation’s growth. Also on the list: protect water rights and support the recovery of Mono Lake, expand Conway Ranch to year-round production, support recovery of private investments in the ranch and create a plan for Mono County that addresses the concerns not only of Conway Ranch, but Mono Basin fishing stakeholders in general.
“We’re trying to fulfill our contracts and make Conway Ranch what everyone thinks it can be, but we have these roadblocks,” Alpers said, referring to a Caltrans-ordered halt to any further production or expansion of the facility, which he maintains generates little or no visible impact from the highway. Alpers pointed out that the agency has, by contrast, said nothing about what he called a “gargantuan” industrial building being erected in plain view just off U.S. 395, only a few miles up the grade from the ranch.
“Hypocrisy is the Vaseline of political intercourse,” Alpers quipped, quoting late radio personality Paul Harvey.
“We want to establish a 50-year plan to get fish from eggs to various sizes of trophy trout and get them into Mono County waters. That’s the big picture and we need to keep that in mind,” Alpers suggested.
Twin Lakes resort owner Steve Marti urged looking into Safe Harbor agreements, whether individual or county-wide, that he thinks would allow more development of various types of fish-raising cultures and bridge F&W and DFG strain differences. “In terms of overall production, we can’t get to where we need to be,” Marti advised the Board.
In other fishing news …
The Board also heard from Dick Noles from the Mono County Fisheries Commission and Department of Fish and Game biologist Steve Parmenter regarding a letter requested from the Board supporting a proposed change in Lower Rush Creek fishing regulations. The letter would back an evaluation pursuant to potentially modifying Lower Rush Creek from catch-and-release, which is the current rule, to a two-trout catch-and-keep rule. Rewatering in recent years revitalized the waterway, and Noles suggested that Rush Creek is now viewed as “an underutilized wild trout stream.” The DFG evaluates new regulations every three years, and isn’t set to meet and review new proposals until August 2012. The agency wouldn’t adopt any new guidelines until that December.
That lead-time, Noles indicated, gives the County a chance to “drive the train,” rather than “end up on the caboose.”
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s local division said it supports the utilization of the creek, though Noles acknowledged it has yet to go before the LADWP Board.
Parmenter, however, said the state’s Water Resources Control Board has imposed performance limits, such as the size of the trout to be allowed for fishing, which he said has to be documented before the conditions governing the rewatering could be terminated. Bait fishing was also a concern, Parmenter said, because anglers will catch more fish and tend to keep the biggest ones. He did, however, concede that any changes — assuming they are approved — wouldn’t take effect until at least 2013, so there is time to conduct studies.
The Board authorized staff to draft a letter for review and possible approval to keep the County out in front of the issue.