Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Salmon, Bass, & Nature

With nature taking its course and the larger fish eating the smaller, it may be wise to allow humans to catch as many of the larger bass as possible—as the smaller salmon are protected—and so it goes.

This story from the Sacramento Bee reminds us of how little we really know, but still offers clear policy choices: increase the catch of bass and the production of hatchery salmon.

An excerpt.

“Some fish do the eating and others get eaten. That is the nature of nature.

“But if man helps one voracious eater that doesn't belong, is that fair?

“This is the essential question in a lawsuit over the striped bass, a non-native fish introduced to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta from the East Coast in 1879 to create a commercial fishery.

“Today the striper is caught only for sport – prized by anglers for its tasty flesh and hard fighting on the rod.

“But while the California Department of Fish and Game props it up as a sport fish, the striper has become the Delta's top predator, feasting on Delta smelt, juvenile salmon and steelhead. These are endangered species in California – and the focus of Herculean conservation efforts.

“The suit was brought by the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, a nonprofit made up of San Joaquin Valley water agencies linked to Stewart Resnick, a billionaire with a huge Kern County farming operation.

“Those farms require Delta water diversions to grow crops including oranges, pistachios and pomegranates. Their water supply has been reduced by federal and state rules to protect smelt and salmon, because the giant pumps that funnel water out of the Delta also kill large numbers of fish.

“The lawsuit targets the Department of Fish and Game, alleging it has ignored harm to native fish and instead acted to bolster the striper population.

"This administration has a responsibility to fix this," said Michael Boccadoro, spokesman for the coalition. "They're going to be asking voters to pass $11 billion in (water) bonds in November. How can you do that when a state agency is knowingly worsening a situation in the Delta?"

“Fish and Game has asked the court to dismiss the case, saying the plaintiffs lack standing because they don't engage in fishing in the Delta.

"We feel they don't have grounds to sue," said spokeswoman Jordan Traverso.

“There is general agreement that striped bass eat endangered fish. But there is no scientific certainty about how many they eat.

“A 1999 report by Fish and Game estimated stripers may eat as much as 6 percent of some salmon runs. Evidence uncovered by the lawsuit indicates state officials have known for years that it may be a bigger problem, according to documents the coalition obtained as part of the lawsuit.”