For Immediate Release, November 11, 2008
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Chris Frissell, Pacific Rivers Council, (406) 471-3167
Roland Knapp, University of California, Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory, (760) 647-0034
Court Considers Interim Measures to Protect California's Sensitive
Native Fish and Amphibians From Fish Stocking
SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The Sacramento Superior Court has ordered the California Department of Fish and Game into talks with Pacific Rivers Council and the Center for Biological Diversity to develop interim measures to limit harm to native species caused by fish stocking. The intent is to minimize the adverse effect that hatchery-raised fish inflict on sensitive native fish and amphibian species while the Department prepares an Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act.
“Interim measures limiting stocking are needed to help save California’s native fish and frogs from extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Fish and Game should still be able to stock hatchery fish, but in places where they won’t harm native species."
The court ruled in May 2007 that fish stocking has “significant environmental impacts” on “aquatic ecosystems” and “in particular, on native species of fish, amphibians and insects, some of which are threatened or endangered.” The court ordered the Department to analyze and mitigate the impacts of the stocking program in an Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, by the end of 2008. The Department returned to court last month to ask for a one-year extension, to January 2010, because the agency has made little progress on the EIR.
To reduce the impact of the Department’s delay, the Center and Pacific Rivers Council asked for interim restrictions on stocking, including not stocking in areas where sensitive species such as California golden trout, Santa Ana sucker, mountain yellow-legged frog, and Cascades frog, are known to be present or where the Department has yet to survey. Judge Patrick Marlette stated in a tentative order that such interim measures may be necessary, but gave the Department until November 24th to negotiate an agreement with the two organizations to determine where stocking could take place pending completion of the EIR. If no agreement is reached, the Judge indicated that he would consider limiting stocking only to water bodies where no at-risk species occur on an interim basis, as proposed by petitioners.
“The far reaching, often disastrous consequences of stocking hatchery fish have been known for decades,” said Dr. Chris Frissell, Director of Science and Conservation for Pacific Rivers Council. “It’s far past time the Department of Fish and Game completed a credible review of the environmental impacts of its hatchery program and identified the steps needed to limit its impacts to sensitive native species, as many other states have done. Interim measures are merely a short-term safety net to protect vulnerable species and waters until the State meets its legal mandate to produce a report.”
The required California Environmental Quality Act environmental review will for the first time provide the public and independent wildlife experts with an opportunity to actively participate in how the Department can improve management of the statewide fish-stocking program to better meet the needs of both California’s native species and recreational anglers. Suspending the stocking of non-native fish in certain areas while the review is being conducted will allow the Department to keep open as many options regarding future management as possible by ensuring that interim stocking does not further jeopardize any of California’s wildlife.
“The Department needs to consider the environmental impacts of its fish-stocking program before it stocks more fish into aquatic strongholds,” said Frissell, who has published numerous scientific articles on the ecology of native fish and wildlife species. “This is the only way that the Department can be sure that it is not causing or contributing to the loss of the last remaining populations of these native California animals and the habitat they depend on.”
Removing non-native fish once they have been introduced is difficult, expensive and can cause further damage to sensitive species. Many of the sensitive fish and amphibian species are already so seriously depleted by past impacts, including fish stocking, that even one more year of stocking could cause irreversible loss of some populations.
“The mountain yellow-legged frog has disappeared from more than 90% of its former range in the Sierra Nevada, and introduced trout are an important cause of this decline,” stated research biologist Dr. Roland Knapp. Likewise, unintended consequences of stocking nonnative trout without needed precautions have seriously compromised and set back the State’s own conservation and recovery efforts for its imperiled native golden and redband trout. “On a hopeful note, a cessation of stocking and the removal of nonnative trout from key sites can allow the recovery of mountain-yellow legged frogs and other native species.”
The Pacific Rivers Council and Center for Biological Diversity are represented by Deborah A. Sivas of the Environmental Law Clinic, Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School. For more information about the lawsuit go to www.pacrivers.org or www.biologicaldiversity.org.