FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Conservation Groups, State Reach Agreement On Measures to Protect Native Fish, Amphibians from Fish-Stocking

Pact Requires California Department of Fish and Game to Halt Stocking in Some State Waters while Impacts Are Considered

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Nov 20, 2008

SACRAMENTO, Calif. Two conservation groups, Pacific Rivers Council and the Center for Biological Diversity, have reached agreement with the California Department of Fish and Game on interim measures to limit harm to native species caused by fish stocking. The intent is to minimize the harm that hatchery-raised fish inflict on sensitive native fish and amphibian species while the Department prepares an Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act. The Agreement was spurred by a tentative order issued by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette,which indicated that he would find that that stocking could cause irreparable harm to native species.  Judge Marlette signed the final order putting the agreement in place Friday, Nov. 21.

"Interim measures limiting stocking are needed to help save California's native fish and frogs from golden_trout_caption.jpgextinction," said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "Fish and Game will still be able to stock hatchery fish, but mainly in places where they won't harm native species."

During the past week, biologists from the two conservation groups have held daily conferences with the Department, successfully negotiating interim protections that will allow much of the Departments research, educational, anadromous fish conservation, native fish reintroduction, and recreational angling programs to continue, while requiring limits on stocking in areas where native species are especially at risk from stocking due to predation, competition, disease, and invasive species.

"The Department needs to consider the environmental impacts of its fish-stocking program before it stocks more fish into waters that are still strongholds for native species," said Dr. Chris Frissell, director of Science and Conservation for Pacific Rivers Council. "This is the only way that the Department can be sure that it is not causing or contributing to the loss of the last remaining populations of these native California animals and the habitat they depend on."

The Court ruled in May 2007 that fish stocking has significant environmental impacts on aquatic ecosystems and in particular, on native species of fish, amphibians and insects, some of which are threatened or endangered. The Court ordered the Department to analyze and mitigate the impacts of the stocking program in an Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, by the end of 2008. The Department returned to court last month to ask for a one-year extension, to January 2010, because the agency has made little progress on the EIR.

To reduce the impact of the Department's delay, the Center and Pacific Rivers Council asked for interim restrictions on stocking, including not stocking in areas where sensitive native species such as California golden trout, Santa Ana sucker, mountain yellow-legged frog, and Cascades frog, are known to be present or where the Department has yet to survey. In his tentative order, Judge Marlette agreed that interim measures are necessary, but gave the Department until November 24th to negotiate an agreement with the two organizations to determine where stocking could take place pending completion of the EIR.

"The far reaching, often disastrous consequences of stocking hatchery fish on top of native trout and other aquatic species have been known for decades," said Frissell, who has published numerous scientific articles on the ecology of native fish and wildlife species. "It's far past time the Department of Fish and Game completed a credible review of the environmental impacts of its hatchery program and identified the steps needed to limit its impacts to sensitive native species, as many other states have done. Interim measures are merely a short-term safety net to protect vulnerable species and waters until the State meets its legal mandate to produce a report."

Removing non-native fish once they have been introduced is difficult, expensive and can cause further damage to sensitive species. Many of the sensitive fish and amphibian species are already so seriously depleted by past impacts, including the decades of unmitigated fish stocking, that even one more year of stocking could cause irreversible loss of some populations.

"The mountain yellow-legged frog has disappeared from more than 90 percent of its former range in the Sierra Nevada, and introduced trout are an important cause of this decline," stated research biologist Dr. Roland Knapp. "Likewise, unintended consequences of stocking nonnative trout without needed precautions have seriously compromised and set back the States own conservation and recovery efforts for its imperiled native golden and redband trout. On a hopeful note, a cessation of stocking and the removal of non-native trout from key sites can allow the recovery of mountain yellow-legged frogs and other native species," Knapp said.

The negotiated agreement allows several important categories of fish stocking carried out or permitted by the Department of Fish and Game to move forward in the coming year. These include stocking that is necessary for reintroduction of native fishes to their historical range; stocking deemed necessary for salmon or steelhead recovery; stocking that is specifically required by ongoing mitigation orders or other legal provisos; specific salmon stamp-funded enhancement stocking programs; most stocking in farm ponds and large, man-made reservoirs; and previously permitted private party stocking. Stocking will be curtailed for the time being in waters where any of 25 native fish and amphibian species (see list below) considered sensitive to fish stocking are known to occur. The agreement provides a basis for further information exchange between the state and conservation groups and allows for amending the provisions to accommodate new information.

The Pacific Rivers Council and Center for Biological Diversity are represented by the Environmental Law Clinic, Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School. For more information about the lawsuit, go to www.pacrivers.org or www.biologicaldiversity.org.

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