Court Orders Review Of California’s Harmful Fish Stocking Practices

Court Orders Review Of California’s Harmful Fish Stocking Practices

In California, along with many other places in the West, native trout numbers are getting smaller and smaller. California’s own state fish, the golden trout, is just one troubling example. Scientists have shown a link between fish stocking and these declines. Not only does fish stocking impact trout but also other native fish and amphibian species, most notably those that are found in more remote and isolated waters, such as the mountain yellow-legged frog and Cascades frog.

Despite the numerous studies that show the link between fish stocking and native species declines, the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) has never formally conducted an environmental review of its stocking practices and their impacts on freshwater ecosystems. In 2006 alone, DFG planted over 50 million trout into California’s lakes, rivers and streams.

After many years of urging DFG to reform its fish stocking program, PRC and our colleagues formally requested that the agency initiate an environmental review of its fish stocking program in order to consider its impacts on imperiled aquatic species. When the review was not conducted, we asked the courts to help us. And we were successful! In May of 2007, the court ruled in our favor holding that DFG must prepare an Environmental Impact Report by the end of 2008. DFG was unable to meet this deadline, however. So PRC went back to court and negotiated a deal with DFG to limit stocking while the agency prepares the EIR, now expected at the beginning of 2010.

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 considered sensitive to fish stocking are known to occur.

The DFG is now beginning the first step to protect existing quality habitat and healthy native fish and amphibian populations from further degradation and secure protection of high-quality watersheds from the threat of future stocking.

The DFG will conduct a statewide assessment of the fish stocking program to identify where impacts are occurring and to which native species. This has never been done.

With actual data in hand, we can begin a broader discussion of how to address the historical and ongoing impacts of fish stocking on native aquatic species.

Click here to read more about our work to protect wild species from harmful impacts caused by fish stocking.

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