The agreement, awaiting approval by a federal judge, requires the Department of Fish and Game to change the size and number of striped bass that fishermen can keep.
It results from a lawsuit filed in 2008 by the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta.
The striped bass is a nonnative predator that eats endangered species, including endangered smelt and young salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
In the lawsuit, the coalition alleges that state officials have mismanaged the striper by allowing anglers to keep only two at any given time, and none smaller than 18 inches long.
As a result, the striper population has been allowed to grow, contributing to steep population declines in several species native to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The settlement requires Fish and Game to change the limits on size and number governing striper fishing. It does not say how those limits must change. But the end result will likely be more lenient rules.
"All indications are that if you reduce predation (by striped bass) the endangered species should benefit substantially," said Michael Boccadoro, spokesman for the coalition. "We think it's a great settlement to begin to address the issue."
Fish and Game officials did not respond to a request for comment. The settlement is to be heard by U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger in Fresno on March 17.
The state does not admit fault in the settlement.
The lawsuit has been controversial because the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta consists of large San Joaquin Valley farm irrigation districts – primarily in Kern County – which depend on water diverted from the Delta to grow crops. Critics say those irrigators merely want to divert attention from the water diversions, which also kill endangered species.
The coalition, however, has maintained it wants to change other aspects of Delta management that have received relatively little attention from regulators.
The case has also divided anglers. The striper is a prized sportfish and supports a significant share of the region's recreational fishing industry, especially in recent years when salmon fishing was halted to protect the species.
Some fishermen note stripers have long existed in harmony with other species, and the population has waxed and waned with them as well.
Brandon Beachum, owner of Champion Sportfishing Outfitters, a West Sacramento guide service, does not support reducing the size limit on stripers, but said anglers should be allowed to take more of them.
"The stripers annihilate salmon," said Beachum. "But if we didn't have stripers during the salmon closure, I would have been absolutely out of business."
Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, warned that if stripers decline, other predators that may be worse for salmon and smelt will fill that gap.
Jennings' group is an intervenor in the lawsuit on behalf of Fish and Game and does not support the settlement.
The agreement sets a timetable for Fish and Game to submit new rules to the state Fish and Game Commission, which is ultimately responsible for changing the rules.
The department will also be required to set aside $1 million to research predation by invasive species. This research does not have to be completed before new fishing regulations are enacted.
Sewage Plant Upgrade Ordered
Dec 10, 2010
A strict new sewage discharge permit was approved late Thursday that local officials have warned could triple sewage treatment bills for 500,000 ratepayers in the Sacramento metro area.
The action came at 10:45 p.m. after a 12-hour meeting in Rancho Cordova.
"No doubt it's going to cost a lot of money, but the Delta is worth it," said Pamela Creedon, executive officer of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, which adopted the rules by unanimous vote.
Stan Dean, district engineer of the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District, said appealing to the State Water Resources Control Board "is a very strong possibility."
It was Sacramento against the state during the meeting, at which about 300 people assembled to debate whether the capital should do a better job of treating its sewage.
Wastewater from the region's 1.3 million people is suspected of disrupting the ecology of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Because the Delta supplies drinking water for 25 million people, the meeting drew politicians and water agency officials from throughout the state.
The meeting continued into the night as competing parties debated obscure but important technical issues governing the proposed permit.
The meeting's morning session was dominated by competing dramatic claims by the participants, from Sacramentans who fear economic harm, to Southern Californians worried about their water supply.
"It is a war between North and South," Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson told the water board, in the day's first dramatic flourish.
State Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, who represents Riverside County, countered that the Sacramento region can't ignore its environmental impact on the Delta.
"This isn't a North and South issue. This is a state issue," he said. "The Sacramento region needs to do its share."
The Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District discharges the region's wastewater into the Sacramento River at Freeport.
It must obtain a new discharge permit every five years under the federal Clean Water Act. The current permit dates to 2000, because the highly technical and controversial nature of the issue has caused delays.
The new permit would drastically reduce discharge limits for a number of pollutants. The central issues involve ammonia and cryptosporidium, an infectious pathogen.
Much of the argument Thursday centered on the cost of compliance. Sacramento officials have estimated that current sewage bills for a half-million customers would have to triple – to $60 a month – to pay for treatment plant improvements.
"Now is not the time," said Elk Grove resident Ted Benjamin. "Maybe it's right. But I cannot afford it."
Central Valley water board staff summarized years of evidence gathered on Sacramento's wastewater. The debate came down to three issues: ammonia, pathogens and oxygen depletion in the Delta's waters.
Recent studies have found problems in all three areas.
Ammonia in the region's effluent, for instance, is interfering with the reproduction of copepods, tiny phytoplankton at the base of the food chain. It also may have long-term health effects on the endangered Delta smelt.
Sacramento's sewage puts 14 tons of ammonia into the Delta every day, 99 percent of the total, according to the board's research. It's enough to cause toxic effects on test organisms all the way downstream to Rio Vista, about 30 miles away.
Water board staff also presented research, by University of Arizona assistant professor of biology Charles Gerba, that swimmers downstream from Sacramento's sewer outfall are twice as likely to get sick as those upstream.
"We are required to protect the ecosystem, and we know there are impacts now," said Ken Landau, assistant executive officer of the Central Valley water board. "I cannot emphasize too strongly, the science behind this is sound."
Numerous other officials support those conclusions and the proposed pollution limits, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Public Health.
The evidence, however, was disputed by a platoon of consultants hired by the Sacramento sanitation district. Some of the most persuasive testimony came from the district's expert on biology, who said there's no evidence the decline in copepods actually affects fish or the ecosystem.