An act of Congress may end up changing decades old water policies that have increased year round Delta flows for the benefit of predatory striped bass at the determinant of endangered native salmon and steelhead as well as urban and agricultural water users.
The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed HR 4582 dubbed the Save Our Salmon Act introduced by Congressman Jeff Denham, R-Turlock.
Denham’s bill would remove the fish doubling provision in the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) for non-native, predatory striped bass, thereby protecting native salmon and steelhead and reducing nonessential water usage.
“One of the greatest threats facing the Central Valley is drought, and this bipartisan legislation would provide a common sense solution to wasteful fresh water usage,” said Denham. “Predation of endangered fish in California continues to be one of many factors in the complex equation of California drought. By eliminating this unnecessary provision that threatens our salmon and steelhead populations, native species will again thrive without wasting the massive amounts of fresh water and taxpayer dollars currently required to do so.”
The federal legislatgion is moving forward at the same time a broad statewide coalition of water users — ranging from the massive Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to associations representing smaller irrigation districts in and around the Delta along with farming and business groups — are petitioning California Fish and Game Commission to modify fishing rules to address the predation of endangered Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, and Delta smelt by non-native predator species such as bass.
Increasing the daily bag limit for bass fishing in the Delta and reducing the fish size limit could go a long way to reducing the decline of endangered salmon and smelt while saving water for urban, farm and other environmental uses.
The requested fishing regulation charges are as follows:
*BLACK BASS: Decrease the size limit from 12 inches to 8 inches while increasing the daily bag limit from 5 fish to 10 fish.
uSTRIPED BASS: Decrease the size limit from 18 inches to 12 inches while increasing the daily bag limit from 2 fish to 6 fish.
The Coalition for a Sustainable Delta notes the predation of the endangered native salmon, steelhead and smelt by non-native species is well documented and is a major contributing factoring to their dwindling numbers. They cite a 2011 Department of Fish and Game report that concluded “studies of striped bass feeding habits indicate they consume an enormous volume of fish, overlap in their geographic range with the listed species (the endangered Delta smelt, Chinook salmon, and Central Valley steelhead), and have historically consumed listed species, at times in very substantial quantities.”
Experts for the coalition have noted water policies involving the Delta put in place in 2003 set the stage for the steady decline of threatened species in the Delta.
Meanwhile the CVPIA currently mandates population doubling for anadromous fish, including both native species and non-native predator fish, specifically striped bass. Native salmon and steelhead populations have suffered as a result, and millions of acre-feet of water have been sent through local waterways in an attempt to help these native species migrate to the ocean. The SOS Act would remove the striped bass from the doubling requirement, giving native species a better chance of survival without unnecessary use of water reserves and wasting taxpayer dollars.
Since its introduction in February 2016, the SOS Act has received support from 15 water agencies and irrigation districts throughout California. During a testimony in front of the Natural Resources Committee in April 2016, the Department of Interior stated its support for Denham’s bill