Soapbox

Sports fishermen have rights, too

Large mouth and striped bass are transferred to a holding tank and taken out of the Delta in May out of concerns they are eating Delta smelt and other threatened fish.
Large mouth and striped bass are transferred to a holding tank and taken out of the Delta in May out of concerns they are eating Delta smelt and other threatened fish. Sacramento Bee file

The curse of moderation is understanding each side of an issue. I am an ecology-trained farmer who fishes. Farmers need assured water supplies.

But without innovative management, water drawn from our rivers and Delta for urban and farming needs may adversely impact endangered, game, and commercial fish species that provide recreation and food.

Under federal law, we must fund massive efforts to save endangered species. The noble goals of the Endangered Species Act are offset by its cumbersome, litigious implementation. Perhaps with a new Trump administration, the timing is right to address the competing water and fishery issues that have produced resource management gridlock in California.

The prevailing paradigm is that native species are “good” and introduced species are “bad.” We should adjust our thinking about these new species, and consider the positive impact that many have on the environment and the economy. It is important to all anglers that plans to protect “native” species don’t devastate sports fish such as striped bass that were introduced generations ago.

As the power of ESA has grown, it has left little room for broad thinking. A plan to sacrifice striped bass to marginally assist salmon and smelt was rejected by the California Fish and Game Commission. A focus on ridding our waters of fish introduced many lifetimes ago does little to move forward big ideas to improve the environment in a way that will benefit farmers, people and wildlife.

Polarized politics presents us with resource management by lawsuit. Court decisions demand unrealistic protection plans that come at the expense of important game fish for California’s anglers. Any realistic conservation plan must include economics and recreation. If solutions to protect endangered species lead to fewer game fish, then there will be a precipitous drop in fishing license and boating registration revenue.

It’s a vicious cycle that harms every element of conservation and environmental protection. We cannot allow extremists to devour scarce budgets that would be better spent on rehabilitating ecosystems that benefit many species, farmers and cities.

This moderate has reached the conclusion that defense of water sanity is no vice, and would propose the following solutions: Allow more flexibility in the timing of water diversions. Build an off-stream reservoir in the Central Valley to capture floodwater. Grant unconditional “amnesty” to specific non-native species. Invest in habitat improvement and restoration, and restore the backchannels and floodplains that once were the source of thriving fish and wildlife populations. Change laws and regulations that now encourage lawsuits to instead reward cooperation.

We need to plan long-range and invest what resources we have into solutions that balance protection, recreation and economic reality. Meanwhile, I suggest we all continue to practice strict water conservation, and pray for rain.

Ken Beer of Sloughhouse is director of the California Sportfishing League. He can be contacted at beerfishery@yahoo.com.

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