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Onerous permit plan sent back to Department of Fish and Game for reconsideration.



WON Staff Writer


SAN DIEGOThe Fish and Game Commission today unanimously rejected a new  permit scheme that would have imposed costly environmental studies on privately stocked lakes and ponds, including those owned or operated by public agencies. A Department of Fish and Game representative said the studies were necessary to "improve business practices and protect the environment including endangered species."

"I haven't heard a compelling need to do this. What I have heard is we want to be big government and collect information at the cost of the people who own the ponds and lakes.
Impact on jobs and businesses, none? Really? I don't think so," commissioner Dan Richards said in his typical plain-spoken way.

The commissioners directed the DFG to take another look at the critical issues surrounding fish stocking, including clarification of the legal landscape. They set no timetable for the DFG to respond.

"The door's open to come back with something more appropriate," Richards added. Don't expect it to be soon. 
The new regulations sought by DFG Fisheries would have ended a 30-year permit exemption for 37 California counties that allows the stocking of 8 common species: rainbow trout, Sacramento perch, bluegill redear sunfish, largemouth bass and blue and white catfish. 

That, everyone could agree on. When it was time to discuss the proposed permit plan, DFG Fisheries described a harmless mouse. For everyone else, the rampaging elephant was obvious.

If this passes, "My lakes will close and my 50 employees will be discharged. I personally stock $1 million in fish each year," said Doug Elliot, the operator of Santa Ana River Lakes.

Elliot said that in over 30 years of stocking, he hadn't received one report of a negative impact. "These fish (trout, bass, etc) are widely distributed throughout the state. We're only replacing fish harvested by fishermen," he said.

DFG Fisheries painted a pleasant picture of an easy, inexpensive process — little more than an administrative review in most cases. The California Association for Recreational Fishing didn't take their word.

A CARF commissioned study by Sapphos Environmental found that virtually every privately stocked lake or pond in the state would be on the hook for detailed biological surveys averaging $133,000. A larger lake such as Irvine could expect to spend $161,000.  

Lake operators, local governments, fish farmers, fish food suppliers, ranchers, tackle retailers, even golf course owners were united in their opposition. There were few voices in favor, only DFG Fisheries and one persistent Commission critic. No environmental advocacy groups spoke in favor, not even the Pacific Rivers Council, the coalition whose successful 2010 lawsuit compelled the DFG to study the impact of state stocking programs on native species such as the yellow-legged frog.    

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