Fish Report – Dec. 8

By: Jim Matthews

DFW planning to violate trout stocking mandate again, reducing plants by 50 percent

Trout stocking will be reduced by more than half in 2015 and the state will be planting smaller fish, according to a Department of Fish and Wildlife document quietly posted on the agency website Nov. 7.

The document says the agency will only plant 1.6 million pounds of trout statewide in 2015, violating a state law passed in 2006 that mandates the agency plant 2.75 pounds of trout per fishing license sold in the state. There are around 1 million annual fishing license buyers in California (and 1.8 million total licenses and permits sold), so the state will miss its mandated allotment by at least a million pounds of fish.

The document also says the state’s hatcheries will be releasing fish that average 1/4-pound each instead of 1/2-pound, which is the current standard. It blames the stocking reductions and changes on increased costs and drought, but there is no documentation to support or justify the reductions. 

In 2010, the agency produced 3.6 million pounds of trout and the number was at the level or higher each of the past four seasons. The question is what did the 2006 law mean when it said “fishing licenses sold”? Is that number the around one million annual license buyers, or the 1.8 million total licenses sold, or something in between. From 2004 through 2009, the DFW reported it produced an average of 2.2 million trout, putting them in violation of the law for at least four years regardless of the numbers used. Now the DFW is planning to produce only 1.6 million trout annually? 

Have DFW costs for raising trout actually increased more than 50 percent? That is what the document hidden on the DFW’s website would want us to believe. 

Do you buy that?

It really looks like the DFW is planning to reduce the trout stocking budget and reallocate the funds to other “priorities.” It really smells to me like they were hoping no one would really find out about this until it was a done deal. Anglers would see the trout plants come about as regularly as in the past and see about the same number of fish, albeit half-size fish. Was the DFW hoping to get away with this and only hear a little grousing about the size of the trout planted (although largemouth bass and striper anglers would probably rejoice at more palatable-sized chum for the bass). 

But do you think they really didn’t want us to know about this? Everything about this is odd. The almost secretly-posted document is entitled “Why is DFW planting few and smaller fish in 2015?” This sort of implies there was an announcement and this was a response to public questions.

But I can’t find a press release or any other documentation on plant reductions. In fact, the allotments for next year’s plants aren’t final yet. Was this a trial balloon? DFW staff who are allowed to comment on this weren’t available this past week, so there will be more to come.

Some good news on the trout stocking front

The news about the Department of Fish and Wildlife planning to cut the number of trout planted by more than half, flies in the face of major strides that have been made the last few years to improve the recreational stocking program in Southern California.

The DFW has been stocking more fish and using more creative options, in spite of howling from the environmental community that has stopped plants in so many waters throughout the state. 

Brown trout ranging from just under a pound to over two pounds have continued to be planted at Lake Gregory and Diamond Valley Lake creating a unique catchable program for a different species, but the agency also  hopes that some of the browns will holdover in both waters and add a trophy trout component (like they did in Silverwood Lake decades ago and like they are again providing in Lake Crowley in the Sierra). Since going to the bigger browns that don’t get eaten as easily by bass, stripers, or birds, there are indeed some bigger, brown trout being caught — quietly — by anglers targeting the holdovers.

Brown trout could and should be planted at all of the San Bernardino Mountain lakes (including Silverwood Lake, Green Valley Lake, Big Bear Lake, and Jenks Lake) because brown trout already exist in the watersheds downstream of those fisheries. Sadly, the DFW has been wishy-washy about adding other waters since the trout hatchery lawsuit. Brown trout are non-native, after all, and apparently “non-native” is a four-letter word with the extreme environmental community (even when the browns won’t hurt anything).

Silverwood Lake is now being planted every week with at least 1,200 pounds of rainbow trout. Those weekly plants (nine weeks in a row so far) are scheduled to continue through early spring. The lake is finally busy again in the winter as anglers flock up there to catch the rainbows.

After the news reported two weeks ago that the DFW was going to resume plants at Casitas, Castaic Lagoon (after bay), and Lake Skinner as soon as possible, it was announced this week that Lake Skinner will get its first state trout plants beginning in January. There have been no state fish planted at Skinner for at least five years.

The DFW trout planting program may be one of the only things that have stemmed the dramatic downward decline in fishing license sales since the early 1990s. Since 2011 when the annual license sales dipped below a million for the first and only time in state history, it appears that those sales are on the rise again with more than a million licenses sold in 2012 and 2013. It looks like 2014 will also be above that number. If only we could get back to the 2.5 million or more anglers we had in the early 1980s.

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