A coalition of Central Valley water agencies that import water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta re-filed a lawsuit that attempts to blame the beleaguered striped bass for the collapse of delta smelt and Central Valley Chinook salmon — signaling their resolve to confuse the public and blame others for the decline of the Delta fisheries. Calling themselves the “Coalition for a Sustainable Delta,” the water groups first filed a lawsuit in January 2008 claiming that efforts by the California Fish and Game Commission http://www.fgc.ca.gov/> and California Department Fish and Game http://www.dfg.ca.gov/> to support the striped bass accelerated the demise of endangered salmon and smelt. U.S. District Court Judge Oliver W. Wanger dismissed the complaint on July 24, 2008 because the Coalition lacked standing to bring the lawsuit. The coalition amended and re-filed their complaint on August 22, 2008.
“This lawsuit is a poorly disguised attempt to deflect attention away from the primary cause of the decline of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta estuary,” said Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance http://www.calsport.org/> (CSPA), one of three fishery groups who have intervened on behalf of the State. “The truth is that the massive increase in the diversion of water in recent years has accelerated the crash of the Delta fisheries. Although many factors such as pollution, urban development, and invasive species affect the Delta, excessive water diversion is the leading cause of the decline in the fisheries.”
Experts also disagree with the Coalition’s premise for the lawsuit. “Delta smelt, salmon and striped bass have successfully co-existed in this ecosystem for more than a century. There is no evidence that recent population declines of either delta smelt or Chinook salmon resulted from predation by striped bass, whose numbers have also collapsed,” says Dr. Tina Swanson, a nationally recognized expert on the delta smelt who is affiliated with The Bay Institute http://www.bay.org/> . “In contrast, there is strong scientific evidence that dams, water diversions, pollution and the collapse of the planktonic food web in the upper estuary are harming all the fishes that rely on the Bay-Delta.”
“Delta smelt and Chinook salmon have shown continuous, long term declines since the 1960s and 1970s when the state and federal water projects began exporting water-and striped bass have shown the same decline,” reinforced Doug Lovell, PE, an environmental engineer and a director with the Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers http://www.nccfff.org/> . “There has been no evidence of a classic predator-prey relationship. No reputable scientist has pinned the crash of smelt and salmon on the striped bass.”
“Although they claim to care about the ecological health of the delta, the so-called ‘Coalition for a Sustainable Delta’ is most interested in maintaining their historic allotment of taxpayer subsidized water exports. Their efforts to blame striped bass are ridiculous and a desperate move,” says Gary Adams, vice president of the California Striped Bass Association http://www.striper-csba.com/> . “We hope they will focus their attention on the real issues affecting the health of the Delta. Compared to the alleged striped bass predation issue, there are hundreds of more important issues affecting salmon and smelt in this once-great estuary,” he continued.
The coalition’s revised claim to standing in this lawsuit will most certainly be challenged in court, but even if they are able to successfully establish standing, the merits of the case will still need to be argued, including the coalition’s novel application of the Federal Endangered Species Act.
“I’m certain the Endangered Species Act was never designed to decimate an important recreational asset like the West Coast striped bass fishery and remove its status as a sport fish,” asserts Dan Blanton http://www.danblanton.com/> , a nationally recognized author, photographer, and fisherman who has plied the waters of the Bay and Delta for more than 30 years. “Yet, that’s exactly what will happen if the irrigators prevail in this lawsuit,” continues Blanton.
The Central Valley water agencies admit the lawsuit is in response to Judge Wanger’s recent decisions to protect smelt and salmon by limiting water exports from the Delta. But blaming striped bass for the woes of Chinook salmon and delta smelt will not increase their irrigation allotment; it will only hurt the middle and lower income Californians who fish for striped bass, along with the local industries that support these recreational fishermen.
“I hate to think of all the tackle shop owners, marinas, and fishing guides that will be unnecessarily harmed if the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta wins this suit,” states Blanton.
“Blaming striped bass for the decline of endangered Bay-Delta fisheries is yet another devious plot of the water grabbers who comprise the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta. It is obvious the Coalition considers the striped bass to be a roadblock for claiming more northern water,” sums up Keith Fraser, owner of Loch Lomond http://www.lochlomondmarina.com/> Live Bait and Tackle and a fixture in the history of San Francisco Bay fishing. “They should put their efforts toward addressing the real problems that have adversely affected delta smelt and Chinook salmon. If the Coalition is successful in their greedy attack, it will signal the end of a great fishery for many individuals and families, and for many young and old anglers who love the thrill of catching a striped bass.”
U.S. District Court Judge Oliver W. Wanger has granted the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, the California Striped Bass Association, and the Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly fishers the status of defendant interveners, supporting the State of California in this lawsuit.
About the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance http://www.calsport.org/> : CSPA is a public benefit conservation and research organization established in 1983 for the purpose of conserving, restoring and enhancing the state’s water quality and fishery resources and their aquatic ecosystems and associated riparian habitats. CSPA actively promotes the protection of water quality and fisheries throughout California.
About the California Striped Bass Association http://www.striper-csba.com/> : CSBA is a non-profit organization working to preserve, conserve and enhance striped bass while promoting recreational sport fishing, environmental awareness and good fellowship. Founded in 1974 with a Chapter in Stockton, California, CSBA is one of the largest and most active fishing clubs in California’s Central Valley, and one of the oldest fresh-water fishing clubs in the state.
About the Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers http://www.nccfff.org/> : NCCFFF is the California affiliate of the Federation of Fly Fishers, a 43-year old international non-profit organization dedicated to the betterment of the sport of fly fishing through conservation, restoration and education. In California, these efforts focus on advocating for wise stewardship of our rivers, streams, lakes and other water resources and the fisheries that occupy them.