A Christmas wish list: For the DFW to simply do its job
By JIM MATTHEWS
All we want for Christmas….
For outdoor enthusiasts, especially hunters and fishermen, this past year has been a redux of Don McLean’s American Pie with “bad news on the door step.” Perhaps the biggest disappointment has been the repeated failure of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Just this week, after anglers throughout the San Joaquin Valley/Western Sierra Nevada and Antelope Valley regions have noticed yet another alarming cutback in the number of trout planted in local waters, the agency owned up to what seems like a steady succession of problems at hatcheries. Of course, rather than publishing the magnitude of trout losses and cutbacks in plants, the DFW’s management tried to sugar-coat it for the holidays by telling how many planted trout opportunities there will be for the last two weeks of 2018.
“…trout hatcheries plan to provide plenty of opportunities for anglers of all ages over the next two weeks. Specific plants of catchable trout are scheduled at 53 waters in 25 counties….”
Buried in the release in, and not explained in great detail, are the infrastructure problems and delays in upgrades at four of the 13 DFW hatcheries, and how those things have hammered the DFW’s ability to meet its trout stocking goals for 2018. The Moccasin Creek Hatchery (in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada east of Modesto) was flooded and most of the fish there lost. We don’t know how many fish because they don’t like to tell us. Two other hatcheries, both in Southern California, have had well-water problems – Fillmore and Mojave Narrows – and both had significant fish losses earlier this year, but again the DFW didn’t detail the losses. It looks like Mojave Narrows is finally back up and running at 100 percent, but there was is still no status report on Fillmore and no estimated time of repair. We are never told about the fourth hatchery or its problems. (You can read this press release here: https://cdfgnews.wordpress.com/2018/12/19/fishing-opportunities-abound-over-the-holidays-despite-hatchery-issues-in-central-and-southern-california/)
All anglers have to do is look at the DFW’s weekly trout stocking list to see the massive cutbacks in trout plants that have happened through the fall and winter just this year. The reductions are especially alarming in the southern part of the state where the poundage planted, the waters planted, and the frequency of plants has been dramatically cut. Many waters in these regions – normally being planted for two months or more by this time – have not had a single plant this year and will not be planted until the new budget year.
The Bakersfield area has been particularly hard hit. Only Ming Lake and the upper Kern River (above Isabella) have been planted this fall-winter season – and they might not get any fish at all. In Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange counties, plants finally began at many of the urban lakes this past week and all of the waters have seen frequency of plants reduced. Most of these waters were historically were planted starting in mid- to late-October and the most heavily-fished waters where planted every two weeks until late spring. And a number of major waters (Puddingstone Lake comes instantly to mind) have seen their trout plants stop for reasons that could and should be fixed.
Through all this, the DFW pats itself on the back talking about how its dedicated staff is “addressing issues as they arise,” and how it was on track to produce more trout that in had in the past five years before the latest round of problems crashed down around them. The bar from five years ago is a low bar to exceed. Why not look at what was planted in the 1970s and 80s as the bar? The hatchery staff is doing a great job, but they are mostly jugglers and fireman these days, trying to keep a few balls in the air and putting out the fires when it all comes crashing down. The fires are really created for them by management and the legislature. The DFW budget continues not to make the necessary allocations to update, fix, and expand the failing 70-plus-year-old hatchery infrastructure. Unless things change in the DFW management, things will get worse before they get better.
Concurrently to all this happening, the DFW is alarmed that the sales of hunting and fishing licenses continues to plummet. This is worrisome to the DFW management and the legislature: The golden goose of revenue is going away. So now they are throwing money at doing studies and putting together study groups to come up with solutions (which they won’t have the funding to implement, even if they listened to what people will say and have been saying for over a decade).
Everyone says the same thing: Licenses and tags have become too expensive, and the services provided for that money has dwindled and become invisible. A short story: An angler who buys a fishing license each year, mostly to be legal fishing a local county park lake in the winter because he knows he might catch a few trout for dinner. Then he hears at the gate or from other anglers, there hasn’t been a plant in over a month -- if at all this season -- and he doesn’t catch any fish. How many weeks and years does this have to go on before he simply quits buying a fishing license? Today, that license buyer spends fare more money to catch fewer fish. Each year when the DFW announces its license fee increases, another camel’s back is broken.
The sad part is simply that the trout stocking program is just one of an ongoing series of DFW failures that continue to drive down license and tag sales. Ask any fisherman, any hunter, and he can rattle off a list of reasons why he’s thought about just throwing in the towel in California. They all can point to friends who have already quit here. A lot of them think that is what the bureaucrats and politicians actually want for Christmas: No more hunters and fishermen.
The DFW still could be the innovative and productive agency it was once upon a time. It would just take a management staff that allocated the budget and set work priorities that would benefit those who fund the agency and the natural resources those people use and are concerned about. That really is the agency’s job, afterall. That’s all we want for Christmas.
Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.