DFW trout stocking to resume soon at three major SoCal waters
By JIM MATTHEWS www.OutdoorNewsService.com
Trout plants from the Department of Fish and Wildlife will resume soon on at least three major waters in Southern California -- Lake Skinner, Lake Casitas, and the Castaic Lagoon (afterbay) -- and the agency is working on environmental documentation that will also allow the state to again plant Cachuma Lake and Lake Piru at some time in the future.
But “soon” is a relative term, and those plants could resume as “soon” as the end of the year or as “soon” as late next year for Skinner, Casitas, and the Castaic Lagoon. For Cachuma and Piru, the resumption of stocking may still be a year or more away.
None of these waters had been planted with trout by the DFW since at least Jan., 2010, when the state finished its environmental impact report for the statewide hatchery program. This EIR was mandated by a lawsuit that shut down trout stocking in areas throughout the state because the state agency had never evaluated the possible threat of planted fish on native species. Without evaluation, the DFW stopped stocking at these five waters until it could be shown the plants were not creating a threat to native steelhead that exist or potentially exist in remnant numbers in drainages where these reservoirs are located.
While the DFW staff was able to quickly produce biological evaluations on most Southern California waters that allowed for plants to continue, native steelhead became a bone of contention between state and scientists with the federal government for these five major fishing waters.
The biggest concern for the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) scientists was the possibility that hatchery rainbow trout would wash downstream and hybridize with native steelhead, negatively impacting their genetic purity.
By late 2012, the DFW had switched its entire rainbow trout stocking program over from planting fertile hatchery trout to planting triploid -- or sterile -- trout, making it impossible for the fish to interbreed with the native steelhead. Yet, the state was unable to get the federal agencies to back off on their objections to planting catchable trout in these major fishing waters.
Stafford Lehr, the chief of the DFW fisheries branch, said there was finally “light now out at the end of the tunnel” in their “kerfuffles with the feds.” Lehr said the two federal agencies had finally provided some clarity “in the last couple of months” on what the state could and couldn’t do with regard to planting in Southern California steelhead watersheds. Lehr said the state agency decided to move forward with preparing pre-stocking evaluations on Skinner, Casitas, and Castaic Lagoon. These could be done very quickly, and the state could resume planting these waters before the end of the year. Lehr was unsure when plants would actually resume because the evaluations were not complete, and there has been no consultations with the hatchery system to see if fish would even be available for this winter. But he was confident the federal agencies would not object to the resumption of trout plants on these waters.
Lehr said there were still some issues with Piru, where there is not consensus even within the DFW staff, and other issues exist. Cachuma will also take some additional time because of similar issues. (The Santa Ynez River was tremendous steelhead fishery up into the 1940s that attracted anglers from all over the state, but the construction of Bradbury Dam [Cachuma Dam] in 1953 spelled the final death knell for this river’s native steelhead run.)
Casitas and Cachuma did receive private trout plants after 2010, paid for by the water district managers of these reservoirs, with both waters getting fish from private hatcheries each of the past three years. But the DFW did not renew the water agency stocking permits once they expired. That means Cachuma will not be planted with any trout this fall or winter. Casitas may or may not get fish -- private and/or DFW trout -- this fall-winter trout season, but it is likely trout will be planted here in the “near” future.