Protection for golden, Lahontan trout species strengthened |

Protection for golden, Lahontan trout species strengthened

Several California native trout that are classified as species of concern have earned additional protection after California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 384 will provides amendments to the Trout and Steelhead Conservation and Management Planning Act of 1979 by clarifying the language of the original bill to ensure more thorough protection of California’s wild trout species.

California is home to more than 10 distinct species of trout. Four of these species are classified as threatened or endangered, and the remaining six are all listed as a species of special concern. One of them, the California Golden trout, is already under petition for the endangered listing.

“This is a good day for a group of fish that is struggling for survival,” said Brian Stranko, chief executive officer of California Trout, a major supporter of SB 384. “Wild trout populations statewide have been declining due to a variety of increasing threats. This new law will help protect these fish and the waters they live in for generations to come.”

The new law requires the Department of Fish and Game to complete and implement management plans for all wild trout waters in California within three years for new waters, and to revise them every five years for existing waters. Many of the existing management plans for trout waters are either outdated or have never been completed.

Additionally, there had been confusion with the phrase “catch and release” in existing law. In most parts of the nation, catch-and-release designation means anglers are not allowed to take any fish, but the California definition had sometimes allowed up to a two-fish limit. SB 384 better defines terms and clarifies that the state Fish and Game Commission is empowered to establish fishing regulations for these waters after management plans are completed.

The endangered and threatened species that live in California’s rivers and streams have faced increasing challenges over the years. The effects of logging and mining activities, planting of hatchery-raised hybrid trout, commercial dams and water diversion efforts, and polluted run-off from agriculture and other industries have all decreased the quality of the state’s waterways. SB 384 is one step in the ongoing effort to protect this essential part of California’s natural heritage.

The law is essential for the health of California’s native trout said Victor Babbitt who serves on the Fish and Game Commission for El Dorado County. However, he does have some reservations when it comes to the Lahontan cutthroat trout and reintroduction efforts in the Lake Tahoe Basin waterways.

“I applaud the effort big time because we need the heritage of native trout,” Babbitt said. “But I have concerns on how they go about doing it.”

Of the trout that are on the SB 384 list is the Lahontan cutthroat trout. Plans are on the table by the federal government to reintroduce the trout to Lake Tahoe and surrounding waterways.

In the works for about five years now has been the sole stocking of the Lahontan at Fallen Leaf Lake. Since the effort began, no other fish species is being stocked at the lake.

Babbitt said he’s unsure whether the fish are adapting to Fallen Leaf and is concerned that if the federal Department of Fish and Wildlife moves to eliminate other species stocking at Lake Tahoe, it would hurt the angling community.

“If there was science behind it (the Lahontan) I would love to see it, but at this point there isn’t,” he said.

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