A recent decision by the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC) could foreshadow catastrophe for Clear Lake’s world-class fishery.
Depending on what happens now, “it could be an overnight disaster for bass,” according to guide Matt Allen who closely followed the state’s research into the status of the hitch, a forage fish native to the 43,000 natural lake in northern California.
That investigation culminated with the Department of Fish and Wildlife recommending that the hitch be the first aquatic species in the Clear Lake Basin to be classified as “threatened.” FGC then approved the classification under the California Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned both the state and the federal government to list the hitch, with the latter yet to act. Danger to the bass fishery will be intensified if U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) follows the California lead.
In its petition, CBD recommended “reducing predation by invasive fish near the mouths of spawning streams.”
State and/or federal protections could include suspending limits on non-native bass and/or even mass harvest with nets. And even if California elects not to decimate the trophy bass fishery that it created more than 40 years ago, its hands would be tied if the FWS decides to target bass.
“Trapping largemouth bass in the mouths of the creeks will kill the biggest bass in no time,” Allen said.
That’s because the bass fishery revolves around the hitch. In spring, these plump forage fish move into creeks to reproduce, and big, prespawn Florida bass follow to eat them.
And state findings to the contrary, Allen said that hitch remain in the lake in huge numbers. They’ve simply altered their locations because of drought and increasing water withdrawals for vineyards and other uses, he explained.
“The fish have abandoned some creeks, like Adobe,” he added. “But one bay over, in Casino, I saw thousands and thousands of them boiling. Their population is booming. If anything, they are on the rise because they are adapting.”
But environmentalists and their supporters in state government were more interested in pursuing a political agenda than the real status of the native fish, Allen said.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)