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Fish and Game Q&A: Will controlling Sacramento pikeminnow help salmonids?

Sacramento pikeminnow, formerly known as Sacramento squawfish.

In support of the California Department of Fish and Game and its effort to keep hunters and anglers informed, Outposts, on Thursday or Friday, posts marine biologist Carrie Wilson's weekly Q&A column:

Question: On a local fishing message board, there has been discussion specifically on the killing and discarding of incidental catch Sacramento pikeminnow caught while fishing for steelhead in the American River. One point of view is they are a native fish and part of the ecosystem of the Sacramento River and tributaries, and if you catch them, you should be able to keep them for food or release them unharmed into the water. Another point of view is that on the American River, dams have altered the natural ecosystem. As a result, salmon and steelhead had their spawning range greatly reduced and put the fry and smelt in greater peril with predators such as the pikeminnow.

In the past, a bounty has been placed on pikeminnows at organized fishing derbies on the Sacramento River. This was aimed at reducing their population. The Columbia River has a similar annual event to try to control the pikeminnow numbers. What is DFG’s position on this matter? (George N., El Dorado Hills)

Answer: There may be some confusion among local anglers about Sacramento pikeminnow (formerly known as Sacramento squawfish) management in their native Sacramento River system. According to DFG senior fisheries biologists Terry Jackson and Scott Downie, there have been efforts over the years to remove them as a non-native predator because they were illegally introduced to the Eel River system in approximately 1979. Following that Eel River introduction, DFG conducted various experimental capture and removal efforts in the Eel, and a few private groups sponsored derbies and sometimes offered bounties, but these efforts proved to be biologically futile. DFG has not conducted any such efforts on Sacramento pikeminnow in waters where they are native.

There is also a Northern Pikeminnow Management Program that began in 1990 and affects parts of the lower Columbia and Snake rivers. This Special Northern Pikeminnow Bounty Fishery is funded as mitigation by the Bonneville Power Administration and is managed by Oregon and Washington state fisheries managers. The program has specific rules and regulations.

It is true that changes in the Central Valley ecosystem caused by water diversion and land use practices have greatly reduced anadromous salmonid spawning range, and some of these changes (i.e., reduced stream flows, altered runoff timing and turbidity and increased water temperatures) have created conditions favorable to pikeminnow. However, not even considering the potential Public Trust Doctrine implications of such an action, if DFG were to sanction removal of native non-game, piscivorous (fish-eating) fishes from their historic habitat in order to protect some listed species, then we might well expect advocacy to eradicate non-native piscivorous game fishes (e.g. black bass, striped bass) to soon follow. These actions would not fit well within the law.

From a California sport-fishing-regulations aspect, the Sacramento pikeminnow is regulated under CCR Title 14, section 5.95 (no limit or season), sections 2.25 and 2.30 (bow and arrow and spear fishing) and section 1.87 (no wastage of fish). Therefore, any fishing practice, derby or bounty program in which the Sacramento pikeminnow is wasted is in violation of the regulations and is thus illegal.

In addition, Sacramento squawfish are listed as a "game fish" in commission regulations (CCR Title 14, section 230) and a permit is required before any prizes can be offered to take them. Information regarding applications and permits for fishing contests is available online at  www.dfg.ca.gov/fish/Administration/Permits/FishingContest/index.asp

Q: I have a question regarding taking of wild pigs with a scoped muzzleloader rifle. Section 353(a) of the Mammal Hunting Regulations allows for the taking of big-game mammals with inline muzzleloading rifles. I understand the prohibition of section 353(f) against using a telescopic sight on a muzzleloader during a "muzzleloading rifle/archery tag" hunting season. If I choose to use a muzzleloader to harvest a wild pig per section 368 during a regular hunting season, is it legal to put a scope on the muzzleloader? The regulations do not seem to specifically address this, and during my hunter education class, the instructor suggested I ask DFG for the correct answer. It would appear to not be in conflict with the regulations, provided I was not hunting concurrently for deer. (George, Santa Cruz)

A: Yes, it is legal to take pigs with a muzzleloading rifle that has a scope mounted on it. There are no archery-only or muzzleloading-only seasons for pigs.

Q: Are there any restrictions on using chum while fishing for sharks in San Francisco Bay? As I read Fish and Game Code, section 27.05, chumming is permitted. (Pat C.)

A: Yes, you can chum for sharks inside San Francisco Bay.

If you have a question you would like to see answered in this column, e-mail it to CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.

Photo: A Sacramento pikeminnow. Credit: California Department of Fish and Game

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