By DAVE HURLEY
WON Staff Writer
SAN JOSE – The latest episode in the white sturgeon saga took place on Tuesday, September 19 during the Fish and Game Commission’s Wildlife Resource Committee (WRC) meeting held live and via Zoom. The third item on the agenda was proposed emergency regulation changes for white sturgeon for 2024 with additional recommendations to be developed reflecting a 4% harvest rate for 2025. After a presentation by Dr. John Kelly of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) that mirrored the public meeting on May 16, the department’s recommended emergency regulations for 2024 for catch-and-release only in the San Francisco Bay/Delta all year with sturgeon fishing closed from January through May in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and tributaries to protect spawning sturgeon. Currently, white sturgeon are considered a species of Special Concern, Vulnerable to Exploitation. Kelly additionally reviewed the results of the 3500 responses to Sturgeon Angler Questionnaire that was in effect from May 17 through August 15. The department has taken extraordinary efforts to elicit public comment through translating the survey into 8 languages as well as emailing the survey to the past four years of all who purchased Sturgeon Report Cards. The survey indicated that 57% of respondents would continue to fish for sturgeon if catch-and-release and 81% would continue with a harvest quota.
The White Sturgeon Working Group, composed of recreational charter boat owners, recreational anglers, representatives of fishing organizations, and department staff, have been meeting on a biweekly basis with the goal of following the best available science along with input from the public to forward recommendations to the Fish and Game Commission. The current situation is due to the declining white sturgeon population due to a high exploitation rate from various factors including harvest along with the catastrophic 2022 algae bloom resulting in the confirmed mortality of nearly 900 sturgeon.
During the public comment section, several recreational six-pack operators were present in the meeting room, and their comments focused upon questioning the department’s data and data collection techniques. Six-pack operators have a legitimate economic concern if the fishery is closed on a temporary basis, but after their initial comments, at least one six-pack operator continued to badger the WRC by interrupting members and comments from the public.
James Stone, president of the Nor Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association, requested that the Commission prepare for the October 11/12 meeting by moving this agenda item to the start as up to 200 participants are expected to attend to speak on behalf of continuing fishing for white sturgeon.
At the end of the public comment segment, Jay Rowan, Fisheries Branch Chief, thanked all participants and stated that the department would create a Frequently Asked Questions page about white sturgeon data collection, stating, “There was a lot of incorrect information expressed today. We are willing to look at other options that allow harvest for 2024 for the commission, but it is risky since it may affect the future. We have to get under the 4% threshold, but we will look at other options such as a single annual fish or changes in slot-limit size as opposed to a closure for all take in 2024.”
With the closure of multiple fishing opportunities in northern California this year, another proposed closure is difficult to accept. However, in this case, the future of a species that has been in existence for over 250 million years is in real jeopardy. The next opportunity for public input and discussion of this crucial issue will be the October 11/12 full meeting of the Fish and Game Commission at the Masonic Temple in San Jose. The meeting agenda and information on how to join the meeting is available via https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=215023&inline.