The California Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) commissioners recently met in Los Angeles to finalize the proposed changes to California’s recreational saltwater bass fishing regulations. The meeting opened with the usual parade of public speakers, divided between those for or against changing the regulations, but all united in trying to get in the last word before the commissioners voted.
The comments made on the day of the actual vote fell on deaf ears as the commissioners had already formed their own opinions about the regulations. Following a presentation detailing the proposed regulation changes, staffer Erica Jarvis characterized the proposal as a three-part management approach that relied on a combination of increased size limits, decreased bag limit and seasonal closures for sand bass, but left it up to the commissioners to quantify those changes.
Enviro-biased commissioners Jack Baylis and Michael Sutton were quick to call for strict regulations and maximum seasonal closures despite warnings of possible financial hardship for the sportfishing industry. Baylis went as far as to admonish Jarvis for even mentioning the economic consequences of these changes and Sutton followed it up with his comment: “It always gives me a chill up my spine when I hear fishery managers more concerned about economic impact than restoring and maintaining a fishery. We have seen it time and time again in fisheries all across the United States, that excessive concern for economic impact has caused fisheries to crash.”
Sutton also chimed in on seasonal sand bass closures saying, “We’ve learned the hard way all over the world that fishing spawning aggregations are a really bad idea so I’m glad that we recognize that here and I completely support closing the fishery while they [sand bass] are trying to spawn. The economic impact of this fishery collapsing completely would be much worse than that of a closure.”
Commissioner Richard Rogers and President Jim Kellog took a more reasonable approach, suggesting changes to the size and bag limits and then checking the results in a year to see if they had the desired effect. The question was then asked of Jarvis if there was a way to test if the changes were working. The reply was given that, “any test requires a rigorous monitoring commitment which takes capacity and dollars, neither of which are abundant in the department, nor already prescribed.”
Jarvis went on to explain why monitoring fish stock recovery would be difficult: “Currently we have no estimate of population size so unfortunately we won’t be able to come back a year from now with any actual results to determine the regulation’s effectiveness.”
In the end, Kellog was the voice of reason saying that due to the variables involved, it was best to hold off on closures until there was some science established to show that they were warranted. He finished by saying, “I’m against taking too big of a bite in the beginning rather than testing the water with lesser regulations. Who knows, next year those bass could all of a sudden be back with no explanation.”
The commissioners voted unanimously for a 14-inch minimum size limit for calico bass, sand bass and spotted bay bass, with a total bag limit of five bass and a per species bag limit of five fish.
This allows anglers to posses a total of five bass in any combination (for example five calicos or three sand bass a calico and a spotty) as long as they are over 14 inches long with a legal fillet length of 7½ inches. The new regulations will most likely go into effect at the beginning of 2013.
These changes may seem simple and theoretically good for the Southern California bass population, but there are several things about this meeting and these regulation changes that bother me. I don’t approve of the overgeneralizations that Commissioner Sutton made regarding fisheries collapse. While he is correct and there are currently fisheries collapsing in different parts of the world, the fisheries in California are some of the most regulated on the planet and unlikely on the verge of decimation. For him and Commissioner Baylis to call for maximum restrictions to protect fish that they are not sure need protecting is in my mind ridiculous.
Another problem is that they are making these dire pronouncements based strictly on anecdotal evidence that is based off of what sport fishermen are or aren’t catching today as opposed to what they were or weren’t catching in the past, and doing so without any concern for migration patterns, water quality or other influencing factors.
Finally, to ignore the explanation that the DFG has no estimate of bass population size and no money or manpower to do that testing any time soon, but point down from their high thrones of morality and decry the staffers for putting the good of man over that of the poor defenseless fishes is not a proactive approach.
In other news, my prediction that the temporary depth change for rockfish (from 60 to 50 fathoms) wasn’t going to be all that temporary seems to be coming true as the proposed rockfish regulations for 2013-14 set the depth at 50 fathoms as well.
Next week I’ll be taking a look at something that we as anglers can do to get off the sidelines and into the management of our bass fishery by helping out with a groundbreaking new saltwater bass-tagging operation.