Eastern Sierra could see more than 50 percent fish stocking decline in 2015
In early December, Environmental Scientist and Fisheries Biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), Jim Erdman, first notified the Mono County Fisheries Commission (MCFC) of a possible 40 to 50 percent reduction in fish stocking throughout the State in 2015. At the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday February 3, Erdman presented a more specific CDFW plan for fish stocking and size reduction for Inyo and Mono Counties.
In 2014, CDFW stocked 3.3 million pounds of fish statewide but for 2015, there will be a 50 percent reduction in fish stocking, with only 1.6 million pounds available. “Inyo and Mono Counties pretty much mirrors the state,” Erdman said.
The projected target for the Eastern Sierra is 340,000 pounds as opposed to 744,500 pounds in 2014. These two counties receive approximately 20 percent of the fish produced in the State. “Based on the Governor’s budget and increasing costs we have to remain fiscally responsible and reduce the poundage statewide,” he continued.
In addition to the overall reduction in fish stocking, the size of stocked, catchable fish will also be reduced. Since 2002, the CADFW has stocked fish at 2 to the pound, but prior to that the Department stocked 5 fish to the pound. “This year, 50 percent of the catchable fish will be 4 to the pound,” Erdman said.
Over the course of a 27 or 28 week fishing season, Erdman’s Department stocks 111 lakes in the area, 40 or more are backcountry lakes stocked once a year by airplanes. “Basically, the majority of waters in Inyo and Mono Counties are stocked on a weekly basis and have been for the last ten years,” Erdman said. “This will change as part of efficiency and trying to save money. ” He announced that lakes will be stocked bimonthly, at most, with targeting planting close to holidays.
Supervisor Larry Johnston was appalled by Erdman’s financial reasoning, saying that the State has a $2 billion budget surplus this year, plus fuel costs have drastically dropped in recent weeks. “The State, in a broad sense, is forcing the locals to take over activities they [the state] should be providing and historically have. It’s upsetting. It’s irresponsible… and senseless,” he said.
The Board also heard from Mono County Fisheries Commission Chair Gaye Mueller. “The Commission is extremely concerned about the decrease in stocking in this County,” she said. “It’s a loss of recreational opportunities and the economic impact for the County is going to be phenomenal.”
Mueller expressed concern about the possible sub-catchable size of the quarter pound fish and the loss of 10,000 pounds of fish from Inland Aquaculture Group, former operators at the County hatchery on Conway Ranch, which closed last year. Jeff Simpson of Economic Development said the County already spends approximately $100,000 to stock 20,000 pounds of trophy trout, while the Town of Mammoth Lakes spends about $54,000 to stock 14,000 pounds of trout in the Lakes Basin. That budget could increase to $73,700, should Mammoth Lakes Tourism pitch in this year.
Mueller was also apprehensive about the CDFW stocking triploid (sterile) fish and the County’s ability to protect the spawning streams for wild trout. She encouraged catch and release techniques cage culture programs whereby the fish are dropped in a cage and then released sporadically so that they aren’t all caught within the first few days of stocking. These programs are more labor intensive, as resort owners have to feed the fish, release them when they want to, and clean and store the cages in the winter. However, “This is the future of sustainable fishing,” Meuller said.
“We’re trying to figure out how to move forward,” she told the Board, asking their advice. The MCFC receives $25,000 in discretionary funds each year, in addition to roughly $15,000 in fine fund monies collected from unlicensed fishermen, with roughly $30,000 left to spend this year. She also asked the Board to consider giving the commission additional funds for fish stocking at their mid-year budget review at the end of the month.
The Board advised Mueller to spend the remaining funds on stocking rather than educational programs like Trout in the Classroom to mitigate the current crisis and Supervisor Chair Tim Fesko asked Finance Director Leslie Chapman to put fish stocking on a list of requested items that the Board will review at its mid-year budget review on February 17.
Supervisor Stacy Corless agreed to funding as much stocking as possible but also offered a different perspective. “At some point we have to embrace the new normal,” she said, suggesting the County “take a hard look” at where fish stocking is going. “We can’t just keep digging our heels in, demanding we need more fish,” she said. “We need to look at fishing as part of a bigger recreation strategy.”
After the MCFC meeting on Wednesday, Mueller said the Commission will provide “a little bit” to the Bridgeport Fish Enhancement Foundation for its fish operations, but the majority of the remaining funds will go towards fish stocking. The MCFC expects to stock roughly 5,000 to 6,500 one-pound fish in water and streams that won’t be stocked in time for opening day on April 25.
Mono County purchases fish from Desert Springs Trout Farm in Oregon and owner Tom McDonald was also present at the Board of Supervisors meeting. The County already purchases 20,000 pounds from Desert Springs, but McDonald said he has enough capacity to supply more if the County can afford it.
McDonald also addressed the Board of Supervisors later in the day during an update workshop on Conway Ranch. He told the Supervisors that a hatchery at Conway Ranch isn’t profitable due to cold-water temperatures and the prevalence of disease. “If it were given to us, we wouldn’t put money into trying to start a hatchery,” he said.
Despite McDonald’s warnings, Board Chair Tim Fesko said, “at some point we need to look at controlling our own destiny. Ultimately, I’m a believer in some sort of a hatchery out there.”
Mueller also expressed the MCFC commitment to a hatchery on Conway. “I like the positive thinking about what can be done out there. We need to keep pursuing our options and brainstorm more possibilities,” she said by phone on Wednesday. Building a small-scale hatchery at Conway “can’t save Mono County… but we’re not throwing in the towel,” she concluded.
Supervisor Stump, however said the County “may need to change the visioning” for Conway Ranch at the conclusion of the Board of Supervisors meeting.
Regardless of the profitability of a hatchery at Conway Ranch, the County won’t be producing fish this year. The aquaculture permit at Conway Ranch, which allowed for the production of 45,000 pounds of fish, expired on January 1. The County asked CDFW to transfer the permit from Inland Aquaculture Group to the County when their contract was terminated last year. However, with the hatchery operations suspended last year due to the drought, there was nothing to inspect and the permit expired.