Let's just go ahead and put everybody out of business and see how much tax receipts shrink.
State looking at regulating private fishing ponds, lakes
Private fishing lakes could feel regulatory bite
A proposal by the state would require visitors to private lakes to obtain a fishing license.
Owners of private pay-to-fish ponds and lakes are stewing over new rules the state is considering that would require them to conduct environmental reviews to determine whether their operations harm local wildlife.
The private fishing holes usually operate on a slim margin, said Craig Elliott, owner of Corona Lake, which charges $22 for a day-long chance to catch catfish, trout, tilapia, crappie or bluegill.
If adopted, he says the rules could force him and other operators out of business.
Mark Zaleski / The Press-Enterprise
Corona Lake owner Craig Elliot owner of Corona Lake is upset that private fishing sites such as his may soon be subject to costly state wildlife regulations. "These lakes have been stocked for years and years, and if there ever was an environmental impact, it would have happened long ago."
"We are all scratching our heads on this," said Elliott, whose family has owned the 80-acre lake off Interstate 15 south of Corona for about 30 years. "These lakes have been stocked for years and years, and if there ever was an environmental impact, it would have happened long ago."
It could cost him as much as $100,000 to determine how stocking the lake might affect wildlife, he said. Such assessments require detailed wildlife surveys and reports by qualified biologists.
State Fish and Game officials say the rule changes stem from litigation that requires the department to determine the effects of all fish-stocking practices.
The rules are still in the works, and state officials have been meeting with Elliott and other pay-to-fish operators to hear their concerns.
Elliott said he fears the state could start requiring his customers to have fishing licenses, which cost $43.46 a year for most California residents. The idea has come up during his meetings with Fish and Game officials, he said.
The new regulatory oversight could change the legal status of pay-to-fish operations, said Marko Mlikotin, executive director of the California Association for Recreational Fishing. The operators are now considered "aqua culturists" or fish farmers, who sell their produce fish to the public, he said. If the pay-to-fish operators aren't considered fish farmers, their customers would have to get licenses in most situations, he said.
The rules could have a wide reach, Mlikotin said. They would apply to about 60 fish farmers statewide who grow live fish for pond and lake stocking and for restaurants, he said. In addition, thousands of privately owned ponds and lakes would need stocking permits that require environmental assessments.
"We are talking about backyard, farm, golf course and homeowner association ponds," Mlikotin said.
Stafford Lehr, fish and game's fisheries chief, said the rule-making is in progress and is expected to be discussed at the Fish and Game Commission's Aug. 3 meeting. The department is not ready to seek approval of the new regulations, he said.
"A lot of people will choose not to fish," Cesar Robles says, if the state begins to charge for licenses to fish in private, stocked ponds and lakes.
The move to increase scrutiny of fishing operations stems from lawsuits filed by environmentalists over the state's century-old practice of stocking fish in public lakes, rivers and streams for recreational anglers, Lehr said.
About eight years ago, the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity sued Fish and Game, contending the state's stocking should be subject to a comprehensive environmental study, said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director for the center. The group sued the state again last year when it found the subsequent state study inadequate.
The center said that stocking lakes and waterways with non-native trout has contributed to declines of many native species, particularly amphibians such as the mountain yellow-legged frog, Cascades frog and long-toed salamander, which need fishless, high-mountain lakes for survival. Fish feed on the amphibians' eggs and young.
The center also contended that hatchery-raised fish breed with native animals and thus weaken the native strains.
Greenwald said the litigation wasn't aimed at privately owned lakes and ponds. He added, though, that assessing the impacts at such locations has merit.
Lehr said that as the state determines how its stocking practices affect wildlife, it also needs to learn the consequences of stocking private waterways with the permitted species rainbow trout, largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, tilapia, crappie, and three types of catfish.
"We have no idea what is happening when those eight species are released," he said.
Corona resident Cesar Robles, casting his line Thursday morning at Corona Lake, said he fears a state crackdown could mean just one thing: "A lot of people will choose not to fish."
Another fisherman, Ray Santamaria, of Ontario, said he was hoping to hook a catfish. New regulations aren't needed for private lakes and ponds, he added.
"It's ridiculous," he said. "If it's public land, no problem. But private land? It has to stop somewhere."