Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program expanded

Gov. Newsom signed bill allowing program to include any marine fish species considered to be important to commercial and sport fishing.

SACRAMENTO—A proposal to expand the California Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program (OREHP) to include any marine fish species considered to be important to commercial and sport fishing was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sept. 30. The bill – Assembly Bill 1949 – made it out of the Assembly and State Senate in late August.

Details of the program’s expansion would be based upon stakeholder review and input. The bill’s author, Assembly Member Tasha Boerner Horvath, D-Encinitas, said the bill could benefit depleted marine fish species.

“The Hubbard Marine Fish Hatchery in Carlsbad is the only saltwater marine fish hatchery on the West Coast. The goal of the hatchery program is to develop culture techniques for depleted marine fish species and to produce offspring for use in the OREHP,” Boerner Horvath said, according to the latest legislative analysis of AB 1949. “AB 1949 seeks to expand the program to include any marine fishing species for sport and commercial fishing.

“The bill would also update the provisions related to the advisory panel to provide for more public participation and stakeholder engagement,” Boerner Horvath continued. “In addition, the bill would expand [the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s] contracting authority by allowing [the department] to contract with any public or private entity to conduct research projects.”

A legislative analysis of AB 1949 said the bill’s costs are unknown but could be significant. The Department of Fish and Wildlife anticipates the first year of implementing the expansion of OREHP would be $135,000, and $124,000 every year after that to cover a scientific advisory committee, reporting and public meeting requirements.

California established the OREHP in 1983 as part of a goal to release hatchery-grown fish to “restore depleted marine fish populations,” according to the most recent legislative analysis of AB 1949.

“Initially, research was focused on California halibut and white sea bass,” the legislative analysis stated. “However, research eventually focused exclusively on white sea bass because of the depressed condition of the stock and its higher value to both recreation and commercial fisheries.

“The primary hatchery facility for OREHP activities is the Hubbard Marine Hatchery in Carlsbad,” the legislative analysis continued. “Personnel from Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute … are contracted to operate the fish hatchery in Carlsbad. More than two million white sea bass have been released as a result of the OREHP.”

Sales of ocean enhancement validations and sportfishing licenses by the Department of Fish and Wildlife helps fund the OREHP; funding also comes from the Federal Sportfish Restoration Act.

“As of 2019, the OREHP fund had a balance of more than $3 million with an annual budget of about $1.5 million,” the Assembly’s most recent legislative analysis stated.

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