Congress

House passes bill to save Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta salmon

Fishing for striped bass an adventure amid controversy

Striped bass are a popular sport fish in the Central Valley, but maintaining the fishery for the non-native species has become controversial. Sacramento fishing guide J.D. Richey describes why anglers fish for them. Coming soon: An in-depth look a
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Striped bass are a popular sport fish in the Central Valley, but maintaining the fishery for the non-native species has become controversial. Sacramento fishing guide J.D. Richey describes why anglers fish for them. Coming soon: An in-depth look a

Lawmakers are targeting striped bass in a farmer-backed effort to protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta’s salmon while trimming a 1992 environmental law.

In what amounts to a multi-pronged move, the House on Tuesday night approved a bill by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, that ends the 1992 law’s goal of doubling the number of striped bass living in and around the Delta.

Removing the doubling goal for the predatory fish is supposed to protect preyed-upon salmon, whose preservation is another goal of the 1992 law. It’s also a modest way to scale back the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, which farmers blame for water shortages and have long tried to revise.

“This is a simple bill . . . that will save our water in California,” Denham said during House debate Tuesday, adding that “in California, predation is rampant.”

(The Save our Salmon Act) removes contradictions in federal law that promote a non-native fish species that have been proven to devour salmon and other native species in parts of California.

House Natural Resources Committee.

Following brief debate, the House approved Denham’s measure by voice vote on a day devoted to several routine California environmental and public lands bills, under special procedures that effectively require bipartisan support.

Unlike broader GOP-authored California water legislation, which is still simmering elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the five-page bill that Denham dubs the “Save our Salmon Act” has received a sympathetic reception from the Obama administration.

“The striped bass are thriving,” said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, “but unfortunately, the native salmon are not.”

Although not native to California, striped bass were included among several fish species for whom the CVPIA’s congressional authors 24 years ago set a population-doubling goal. Critics have since come to see those population goals as contradictory.

One 2013 study cited by supporters of Denham’s bill, for instance, concluded that 93 percent of juvenile salmon smolts on the Tuolumne River were eaten perished by striped bass.

At the same time, environmentalists caution that predators are not the only culprit in the loss of salmon, and groups including the California Striped Bass Association fear scapegoating and threats to sport fishing. Critics further consider water exports to San Joaquin Valley farms a greater threat to salmon.

A companion bill has not been introduced in the Senate, where lawmakers have been struggling with broader California water legislation.

The House on Tuesday acted on another bill co-authored by Denham, to reopen the Clear Creek Management Area in western Fresno County to off-road vehicles. The 75,000-acre area, which sprawls into San Benito County, has been closed to off-road vehicles since 2008.

Off-road recreation advocates have long argued that the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimates of potential asbestos exposure at the hilly area were overstated.

In addition to returning off-road vehicles to the Clear Creek area, the bill would establish a new 21,000-acre Joaquin Rocks Wilderness on adjacent federal land in Fresno County. Several nearby stream segments would receive wild-and-scenic river designation, under the bill that Denham introduced with retiring Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel.

“It’s a good bipartisan effort,” Denham said of his bill last year.

The House was also set to consider Tuesday night a bill by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, that transfers 80 acres of Stanislaus National Forest land to the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians. Lawmakers on a quick voice vote approved a bill by House Majority Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, to take 34 acres of federal land in Tulare County into trust for the Tule River Indian Tribe.

“I believe they have a right to self-governance and local control,” McCarthy said. “My principal is that Indian tribes will manage their land better than the distant federal government.”

In California's fourth year of drought, officials are finding it increasingly difficult to fulfill their legal and contractual obligations to distribute water. Following a controversial decision to supplement water flows along the Trinity River ou

Michael Doyle: 202-383-6153, @MichaelDoyle10

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