Faced with state budget cuts that are severely impacting the planting programs of the Department of Fish and Game’s Hatchery programs, Assemblyman Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto) earlier this year introduced AB 590, which would require the department to dedicate up to 45% of fishing license revenue to hatchery programs.
That bill has been made into a two year bill and will be brought up again in January, 2004. James “Brad” Willis, an elected representative of most DFG hatchery workers on the CSEA Negotiating Council, is urging anglers to support the bill, since the current and further budget cuts will severely impact our fisheries.
“At some hatcheries, including those in the Eastern Sierra, we are losing over half of our staff,” said Willis. “Meanwhile, it appears that the Department has channeled fishing license revenue to other programs, such as bio- diversity and endangered species programs. We haven’t yet received a reply on our information request from the Department leadership about where all of the revenues are going.”
Fish and Game Code 711c states that fishing and hunting license revenues are to be used for hunting and sport fishing programs only, according to Willis.
“When you buy a fishing license, the angler expects the money to go to fishing programs,” he said. “The hatcheries provide a very valuable service to the public, when you consider that 70 percent of all anglers fish for trout.”
At press time, the hatchery budget had already been cut by 30 percent, a $1.6 million cut in January. Hatchery workers are being told that the Department may send out “surplus notices” to 5 to 7 year employees. So far only those employees with 30 months or less have been sent “surplus notices,” according to Willis.
The notices start a process, from 30 to 120 days, resulting in possible layoffs. Increased layoffs of the hatchery and other DFG staff will hurt an already hard-hit sport fishing industry and related tourist and recreation businesses.
The Department was ordered earlier this year by the now lame-duck Davis administration to reduce the $257,000,000 DFG Budget by $18,000,0000, a result of the state budget crisis.
The Mad River steelhead and salmon hatchery, responsible for one of the best hatchery steelhead fishing opportunities in the state, and the Fall Creek trout hatchery near Hornbrook may be closed as a result of the budget crisis.
However, short-staffed crews are expected to put as many fish in the state’s lakes and streams as full staffs previously did in the hatcheries, according to Willis.
For example, the Hot Creek hatchery used to have a crew of 8 to 10 permanent employees, but now have only 4 full time employees. The DFG has had to call in other hatchery workers from throughout the state to assist them in getting their job done.
They also cut Hot Creek’s spawning operations to a minimum. “That why Hot Creek has been planting so many large fish this year. Those fish were the Hot Creek strain brood fish, a big source of some of the trout eggs that we hatch at the other hatcheries.”
The DFG hasn’t done an official analysis of the bill and has taken no formal position on it, according to Steve Martarano, Department spokesman. However, he did say “we’re not crazy about the bill. It’s difficult when a bill dedicates funds to one program when there are so many programs that could be severely impacted.”
He also said that 18 total seasonal employees used in the hatcheries have been laid off in the process of Department wide cuts. However, Mono County and the Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau each chipped in $10,000 to fund these positions through the end of the season.
There has been a hiring freeze for 2 years and the Department has lost 25 full time employees. Meanwhile, the vacant positions have been taken away also. “The employee situation and seasonal layoffs have had a major impact not just on the hatcheries, but on the Marine Region, enforcement and other divisions of the Department,” he said.
He said that the DFG was trying to get volunteers and fishing industry support to keep the Mad River, Fall Creek and other hatcheries open. “Hatcheries are very important to the local communities and we hope that they step up and help us out,” he stated.
The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance is opposing SB590, criticizing it for “micro-managing” the Department and supporting hatcheries at the expense of other valuable programs.
“Assemblymember Cogdill may have been well intended since an already emaciated Department of Fish and Game has been further devastated by budget cuts mandated by the Governor,” said John Beuttler, Conservation Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “However, upon closer inspection, Cogdill’s bill would have initiated a practice of the legislature micro managing the department, a task they are not qualified for nor are they capable of doing so.”
Beuttler argued that to arbitrarily decide that forty or fifty percent of license fees will go to hatcheries would decimate other non-hatchery programs for marine resources, anadromous fishery restoration, warm water fisheries and the wild trout program, to name a few.
Beuttler makes some good points, but I agree with Willis that the maintenance of the state’s hatchery system should be the DFG’s number one priority. Reductions in the hatchery program will result in a greater impact to wild trout and salmon fisheries, since they will increase fishing pressure upon these species when hatchery opportunities dry up.
In my travels around the state, I see many families having a great time catching rainbow, brook, brown, mackinaw and Lahontan cutthroat trout and kokanee and king salmon stocked by the DFG. I consider the state’s hatchery program and the “Fishing in the City” program to be the Department’s greatest assets – and I hope that the person that Governor-Elect Schwartezenegger picks for DFG director makes these programs a top funding priority.