California BHA's Guide to Navigating a Full Fish & Game Commission Agenda

The Fish & Game Commission meets this Wednesday and Thursday (4/19 & 4/20), and we hope you can show up to provide comments on some very important issues for hunters and anglers in California.

Here is a link to the agenda, a link to the meeting documents, and a link to join the meeting. Keep reading for BHA’s talking points and positions on the items being discussed. Please show up and make your voice heard, and thank you for being a member of BHA!

Some of the biggest agenda items include:

  • Supporting a potential expansion of elk hunting tags, zones and opportunities.
  • Opposing a petition to prohibit all take of groundfish (like rockfish) shoreward of 100 feet in the Central Groundfish Management Area (Central Coast).
  • Commenting on the first major discussion of adaptive management strategies for the Marine Protected Area Management Plan - a formative conversation that could result in more recreational fishing closures in our state if we don’t speak up.

Other important discussion items include streamlining an outdated online special hunts application system and a proposal to combine the youth and Veteran waterfowl hunt weekends. Not to mention a proposed reduction in desert bighorn sheep tags for the Marble/Clipper mountains as well as the potential closures of Chinook salmon seasons for the Klamath River Basin and the Sacramento, Feather, American, and Mokelumne rivers.

Needless to say, there is a lot to unpack here, so we are going to break down the big items. But, for a comprehensive list of the agenda and meeting documents, check out the Commission's website. 

On Wednesday 4/19, the Commission will meet at 8:30am in Fresno to discuss terrestrial and inland fish/wildlife matters, followed by marine issues at the same time Thursday morning. 

Day 1 - Discussion and Action Items:

Item 6: Permits and draws for special hunts

CDFW has recommended integrating special hunts currently offered through the Special and Apprentice Hunts Online Registration System (SAHORS) to be integrated in to the Automated License Data System (ALDS) "to insure fair and equitable distribution of available permits." Since permits often outnumber applicants for these hunts and the SAHORS is outdated, BHA supports the CDFW proposal to streamline all hunt applications through the ALDS to ensure more opportunity for hunters in California.

Items 8 & 9: Klamath River Basin sport fishing (annual), Central Valley sport fishing (annual)

Prolonged drought and other stressors have resulted in historically low projections for Chinook salmon in the Central Valley and the Klamath River Basin. CDFW has  provided a range of options to address the dismal projections for both fisheries and BHA supports the proposed recommendations to close the fishing seasons provided by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council and CDFW. We remain optimistic that the stocks will rebound in the near future with the drought tempered for now, and we look forward to the season reopening soon.

Item 10: Waterfowl hunting 

The Commission proposes to extend the duck and goose seasons to align with federal regulatory frameworks provided by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, which is an annual process and will result in no major substantive change to hunting opportunity and no changes to species or bag limits. Of note however, is CDFW's additional proposal to combine the youth and Veteran hunt weekends into one weekend which would be a significant change from the 2022 season. This is a complex issue that seeks to balance CDFW staff resources, habitat management practices, and also hunter access and opportunity. We recognize the multitude of perspectives on this issue and encourage folks to express their opinion on the matter, especially our youth hunters and families as well as Veterans whom we strive to support wherever possible.

Item 11: Elk Hunting

There are some exciting proposals that elk hunters in California should be thrilled about, including a total of 112 new tags distributed throughout many of the hunt zones as well as a brand-new Tehachapi Rocky Mountain elk hunt zone. This new zone is being created in response to Rocky Mountain elk that have migrated from Tejon ranch and are beginning to encroach upon endemic Tule elk herds. This rule making change also divides up the large La Panza zone into three total zones and adds 30 additional Tule elk tags to the region. BHA supports CDFW's proposed changes, and we applaud the great work done by many to support our elk herds and to increase hunter opportunity in the state.

Item 12: Nelson Bighorn Sheep Hunting

 Last year BHA volunteers braved 110 degree temperatures to help CDFW biologists survey bighorn sheep in the Marble and Clipper Mountains in order to help inform the health of the sheep population that has struggled following drought and respiratory disease since 2013. There were no lambs found during our survey and while this is only one piece of the puzzle to inform overall health and population status, it was indicative of the overall health of the herd. Not surprisingly CDWF is recommending a reduction in tags from 6 to 2, including 1 general and 1 fundraising tag. BHA supports this temporary tag reduction to ensure sustainable harvest rates and we are optimistic about what this summer's survey will bring after a productive winter. We will be helping to survey the population again on June 3rd & 4th if you are interested in joining us in the desert. Stay tuned for more details.

Day 2 - Discussion and Action Items:

Item 22: Regulation change petitions (marine)

Petition 2023-02: Request to prohibit take of groundfish shoreward of 100 feet in the Central Groundfish Management Area year-round to protect declining kelp. 

BHA strongly opposes this petition, and we agree with the initial staff recommendation regarding the lack of evidence to support the claim that restricting groundfish take would result in the ecological impact described by the petitioner. This well-intentioned effort to support struggling kelp forests is misguided in this petition, and we urge our members to voice their opposition to this proposed loss of access.

Item 25: Marine protected areas decadal management review

BHA recently authored and submitted a 5-page comment letter detailing our MPA Network adaptive management recommendations in response to the MPA Decadal Management Review. While we remain excited about some of the preliminary results from the MPA network and optimistic about what lays ahead, we strongly encourage the Commission, Department and MPA Managers to look at the multitude of recommendations brought forth in our letter including:

  • Need for research and analysis of limited-take vs no-take MPAs across the MPA network and a comparison and analysis of the varied methods of take allowed across different MPAs.
  • Improved coordination with local, state and federal agencies regarding water quality and pollution since there have been hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage drained into the ocean since the passage of the MLPA.
  • Active management and habitat restoration within MPAs to control purple urchin populations where they are overpopulated and destroying kelp forests. 
  • Additional research into species spillover, larval transport and how MPA's are impacting fisheries across the network.

We go much further in depth in our letter, and we encourage you to read it and comment at the upcoming meeting! Now is our chance to advocate for science-based management of our marine resources and access to fish our coastal waters - a right that is defined in Section 1 Article 25 of the California Constitution.

Support BHA and our mission to ensure North America's outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting, through education and work on behalf of wild public lands, waters, and wildlife.

We hope to see you at the Commission meeting!

About Devin O'dea

Devin grew up abalone diving, spearfishing, and backpacking in CA before discovering a love of bowhunting and wing shooting. He worked as a marketing manager for a carbon division of Mitsubishi, but the allure of adventure and wild places led him to BHA