|Good News Precedes Ugly Commission Dust-Up
Feb. 2 was a rare day. As the Fish and Game Commission got down to business in Sacramento in front of a packed house of determined anglers come to defend the Delta’s striped bass from the ill intentions of the water barons, the word quickly spread. The court battle against the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act goes on.
The legal decision that most certainly irritated two of the commissioners in attendance (more on them later—stick around) was handed down by the California Court of Appeals, which summarily denied a motion to dismiss the Coastside Fishing Club’s case arguing the MLPA was illegally created. That case, an appeal of San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Prager’s October decision in favor of the state in the first setback of a combined legal challenge lead by member organizations of the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans, is expected to be heard in late 2012.
As the PSO points out in a release, a favorable outcome for Coastside in Northern California would likely influence the resolution of a similar case brought by co-plaintiffs United Anglers of Southern California and Robert C. Fletcher in Southern California.
"This is definitely a win for us since the Attorney General’s Office, representing the Commission, has repeatedly tried to block our appeal," Fletcher told journalist Dan Bacher. The PSO is collecting funds for the legal challenge at www.SaveCAFishing.org.
Tasty! But that was just the warm-up to a rare slate of good news and a spate of juicy commission infighting. At first, angler-friendly 4-0 commission votes followed one after the other. One set an end date for the Sonoma County emergency abalone closure. It will fade away in time for the 2012 opener. Another abolished the two-fish greenling limit. Greenling will be rolled into the 10-fish composite rockcod limit, thanks to a reevaluation of the stock assessment.
Best of all, outgoing commission president Jim Kellogg found the striped bass ‘not guilty’ of pushing salmon to the brink of extermination. Figuring more than 130 years in state was enough to establish residency, he naturalized the immigrant fish, then cast the first vote of a unanimous four to turn back drastic striper limits designed to virtually wipe them out. This round of battle between Big Water and Fish goes to Fish.
It wasn’t until ecstatic striper anglers and Delta tackle shop owners filed out of the room that the figurative knives came out. By tradition — and the commission’s explicit rules — the commission presidency passes to the senior member. In this case, Dan W. Richards, a true sportsman who tells it like he sees it.
Famously, Richards once called Arnold Schwarzenegger “a forked-tongue devil” for the then-governor’s blatant manipulation of the commission to ramrod the “corrupt” MLPA to passage. How history repeats itself. Someone highly placed in state government or deeply entrenched in the anti-sportsman environmental community must fear what Richards might accomplish. What happened next was extraordinary — and revealing.
Commissioner Michael Sutton, known for his MLPA zeal, sought to monkey wrench Richards’ presidency. Seemingly making it up as he went along, Sutton, backed by commissioner Jack Baylis, pushed to nigh-immediately change policies. Policies that commission executive director Sonke Mastrup recited word for word, that are in place explicitly to prevent outside influence from seizing control of the board.
Kellogg called a vote. It was Kellogg and Richards in favor of Richards’ presidency. Sutton and Baylis abstained — yet continued arguing that Richards’ election was invalid. The debate reached a farcical low when it was suggested that Richard B. Rogers (not present at the meeting), the sitting vice president whose term expired more than a year ago, should assume the office. Richards was a picture of calm professionalism throughout.
Slowly, the realization dawned that Richards had, in fact, been elected 2-0. Had Sutton and Baylis outmaneuvered themselves? Mercifully, they did not vote no, or the commission might still be in session. The muck and grime of fishing and hunting politics had been on display for all to see. Little wonder some fear him; Richards isn’t afraid of a little dirt.
NEW COMMISSION PRESIDENT CELEBRATES A SUCCESSFUL HUNT – California Fish and Game commissioner Dan W. Richards travelled deep into the wicked terrain of Idaho’s Flying B Ranch to fulfill a long-held goal. “It was the most physically exhausting hunt of my lifetime. Eight hours of cold weather hiking in very difficult terrain. I told the guides I appreciated the hard work. They were unbelievably professional, first class all the way,” he said. Richards said he took the big cat over iron sights using a Winchester Centennial lever action .45 carbine. Asked about California’s mountain lion moratorium, Richards didn’t hesitate. “I’m glad it’s legal in Idaho.” COURTESY PHOTO