On 17 March 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger approved a settlement agreement between the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta regarding the Coalition’s lawsuit over DFGs striped bass fishing regulations. The Coalition, a group of water agencies attempting to deflect attention away from the export pumps that have devastated fisheries, sued DFG alleging that stripers were preying on salmon and Delta smelt. CSPA, Northern California Council Federation of Fly Fishers (NCCFFF) and the California Striped Bass Association (CSBA), as well as Delta water agencies, intervened, at great expense, in the lawsuit in support of DFG.
CSPA was looking forward to trial because the evidence in the record did not support the conclusion that striped bass predation caused population level effects on salmon and smelt. Unfortunately, feeling the pressure of escalating legal costs, DFG caved and cut a deal. CSPA, NCCFFF, CSBA and the Delta agencies opposed and refused to sign the settlement agreement. The catastrophic decline of the salmonid and pelagic fisheries of the Central Valley is emblematic of DFG’s longstanding failure to fight for fisheries.
The settlement provides that DFG will work with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to prepare new striper regulations (acceptable to the Coalition) to take to the Fish and Game Commission (Commission). DFG is also required to spend a million dollars on predator studies (which won’t be completed prior to the Commission hearing on the issue and will lack independent peer review).
On the bright side, DFG’s capitulation moves the issue to the Commission where the entire fisheries community can participate in an open public hearing process. Drs. Moyle, Bennett and Ostrach have already submitted written testimony to the Commission refuting the idea that stripers represent a major threat to Delta smelt and salmon survival. Any Commission decision is appealable in state court. Of course, the matter could still go back to Judge Wanger for trial if DFG and the Coalition cannot agree on proposed regulations.