California Fish and Game Commission Meets Remotely

At its April meeting, the California Fish and Game Commission acted on several issues affecting California’s natural resources. The following are just a few items of interest from yesterday’s meeting.

The Commission welcomed newly appointed Commissioner Erika Zavaleta and acknowledged the reappointments of Jacque Hostler-Carmesin and Samantha Murray as commissioners. See the governor’s office press release for more information.

During his regular report, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division David Bess announced Warden Jonathan Garcia as Wildlife Officer of the Year.

The Commission adopted changes to waterfowl hunting regulations for the 2021-22 season. These changes include an increase to 101 day seasons in most zones to accommodate the January 31, 2022 closing date and an increase in the brant season length to 37 days. The Commission and CDFW discussed partnerships with stakeholders to conserve waterfowl habitat on public, private and agricultural lands.

The Commission received one-year status review reports on petitions to list three species – Clara Hunt’s milkvetch, upper Klamath-Trinity River spring Chinook salmon and northern California summer steelhead. The Commission will consider listing these species under the California Endangered Species Act at its June meeting.

The Commission granted CDFW six-month extensions to deliver the one-year status review reports on petitions for two species – mountain lion and Shasta snow-wreath.

The full commission – President Peter Silva, Vice President Samantha Murray, and Commissioners Jacque Hostler-Carmesin, Erika Zavaleta and Eric Sklar – was present.

The agenda for this meeting along with supporting information is available at www.fgc.ca.gov. An archived audio file will be available in coming days. The next meeting of the full Commission is scheduled for May 11, 2021.

As a reminder, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Commission meetings through June 2021 will be held via webinar and teleconference.

Media Contacts:

Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

Excellent Water Skills Help Stop Marine Aquaria Poacher

The California Fish and Game Commission recently revoked commercial marine aquaria fishing privileges for David W. Hornbaker due to unlawful take of marine aquaria species. Hornbaker was charged with using an unlawful anesthetic substance to collect in an area in which he was directly warned not to do so, then failed to cooperate with wildlife officers by attempting to destroy evidence.

In Nov. 2013, while on patrol along the frontside of Santa Catalina Island off Emerald Bay, Wildlife Officers Spencer Gilbert (now retired) and Rob Rojas from the patrol boat Thresher, skippered by Lt. Eric Kord, noticed a sailboat anchored offshore. The wildlife officers knew from a prior contact that the boat belonged to Hornbaker, a commercial marine aquaria collector. It is unlawful to collect marine aquaria at Santa Catalina Island. As they approached, they could see that Hornbaker was not on the boat but was underwater on a SCUBA dive. They searched for, and located, tell-tale SCUBA bubbles on the water’s surface. Warden Rojas doffed his uniform and with nothing more than a mask, fins, swim trunks and a breath of air, dove down to observe Hornbaker in 20-30 feet of water. He watched Hornbaker squirt a substance into the reef, resulting in stunned fish exiting the safety of the reef’s hiding places. Hornbaker then scooped the fish with a small aquarium net and placed it into a container strapped to his side. Marine aquaria collecting by use of a chemical liquid substance is unlawful, due to the damage it causes to the reef.

The fish he had taken from the reef were blue-banded gobies, vibrantly colored blue and orange fish that are highly sought after by marine aquaria collectors due to their high resale value. 

With probable cause that Hornbaker was engaged in unlawful activity, and while still holding his breath, Warden Rojas identified himself underwater as a wildlife officer with a cloth badge and motioned for Hornbaker to surface. While surfacing, Hornbaker attempted to discard two plastic containers that contained the unknown liquid substance used to incapacitate the fish. Warden Rojas took another breath at the surface and dove back down to retrieve the discarded items, containing what had then become evidence. He also seized the container attached to Hornbaker’s side.

Blue Banded Gobies in the container possessed by the suspect

During the subsequent inspection of Hornbaker’s vessel, Warden Gilbert noticed a second container on the ocean floor under the boat. He also doffed his uniform, swam down and retrieved another container containing gobies, 172 in all.

Upon further analysis by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Water Pollution Control Laboratory, the unknown chemical liquid substance was analyzed and identified as quinaldine, a known fish anesthetic that is illegal to use for marine aquaria collection off California.

CDFW’s Marine Enforcement District (MED) has some extraordinarily talented and dedicated wildlife officers who go to great lengths to protect California’s marine resources,” said MED Asst. Chief Mike Stefanak. “It takes time for the criminal and administrative processes to work to bring criminals to justice, but the meticulous efforts of Wardens Gilbert and Rojas ultimately resulted in removal of a bad actor from the commercial marine aquaria trade.”

Wildlife officers cited Hornbaker for unlawful take of marine aquaria species off Santa Catalina Island, unlawful use of quinaldine to take fish and for the unlawful deposit of a deleterious substance into California waters. They properly documented the fish for evidentiary purposes then released them, alive, back into the water. Further investigation revealed that prior to the original contact, Hornbaker had been contacted by a different wildlife officer and was explicitly warned it was unlawful to take marine aquaria species off Santa Catalina Island. Because the Commission revoked Hornbaker’s commercial fishing privileges he is permanently prohibited from collecting marine aquaria.

Media Contacts:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 508-7095

Blue-Colored Fat Linked to Rodenticide Exposure in Hunter-Harvested Wildlife

A flock of geese in the San Francisco Bay Area were likely exposed to an anticoagulant rodenticide, according to findings released in February from a postmortem examination by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Wildlife Health Lab (WHL). 

In Fall 2020, approximately ten Canada Geese shot by hunters in Contra Costa County were found to have blue-colored fat. The WHL conducted an examination on one of the carcasses and detected Diphacinone, an anticoagulant rodenticide, in the goose’s liver. 

“Rodenticide baits like diphacinone often contain a dye which identifies the bait as a poison. We suspect the blue-colored fat was caused by ingestion of a diphacinone bait containing blue dye,” said CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Krysta Rogers, an avian disease specialist. 

Diphacinone is a first-generation anticoagulant rodenticide that typically requires multiple feedings to cause death. It is labeled for use for agriculture, landscape maintenance, and in and around homes and businesses. Canada geese often forage in flocks and readily feed on grasses, sedges and seeds including agricultural grains such as corn, alfalfa and oats. 

CDFW encourages hunters to report any unusual findings in harvested wildlife and not to consume any part of an animal with blue fat or other abnormality. Incidents may be reported to the CDFW’s Wildlife Health Lab at WILab@wildlife.ca.gov or (916) 358-2790. 

Pesticide applicators are urged to use care when using rodenticides so as not to expose wildlife. Prior to application, it is important to ensure non-target wildlife are not using the area where the pesticide is to be applied. 

For more information, please visit the rodenticides page on CDFW’s website. For questions about pesticide use and regulations, or to report misuse, please contact your County Agricultural Commissioner’s office. For Contra Costa County, please call (925) 608-6600.

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Media Contacts
Ken Paglia, CDFW Communications, (916) 825-7120
 

red abalone

The Recreational Red Abalone Fishery to Remain Closed Until 2026

While the spring season typically signals the start of the recreational red abalone season, CDFW reminds anglers that the northern California recreational red abalone fishery will remain closed until April 1, 2026. Red abalone stocks continue to be impacted by large scale die offs in this area due to the collapse of the bull kelp forest, which is their primary food. At its December meeting, the Fish and Game Commission extended the fishery closure for an additional five years to 2026. The Commission closed the fishery in 2017 because of the mortality of red abalone populations due to environmental stressors. 

The current poor environmental conditions and depressed abalone stock were caused by a series of large-scale ecological impacts. These included a massive marine heatwave and El Niño in 2014-2016, the local extinction of sunflower sea stars due to disease and subsequent population expansion of purple sea urchins. The result was a major shift from a robust healthy bull kelp forest ecosystem to one dominated by sea urchins with little kelp or other algae. Such conditions lead to starvation and mass mortalities of abalone, which need kelp to survive.

While the presence of persistently stable sea urchin dominated areas is not a new phenomenon in California, the more than 200 miles of poor conditions across the north coast is unprecedented. An Interim Action Plan for Protecting and Restoring California’s Kelp Forests was developed to guide the state’s efforts to help understand and improve the situation. Several projects are focused on reducing purple sea urchin populations at strategic areas of the coastline. The goal is to create patches of healthy bull kelp that will provide a source of kelp spores that may lead to recovery of the kelp forest when environmental conditions become favorable.

Recovery of bull kelp forests and the diverse ecosystem they support will take time. Thus, the extension of the abalone fishery closure is needed to allow for recovery and protection of surviving abalone. When reopening of the fishery is considered, it will be guided by the Red Abalone Fishery Management Plan, which is currently under development. Learn more about the Red Abalone Fishery Management Plan.

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Media Contacts:
Ian Taniguchi, CDFW Marine Region, (562) 889-6719
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

Youth Art Contest Seeks Invasive Species Detectives

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is pleased to announce the eighth annual California Invasive Species Youth Art Contest. This year’s theme, “Be An Invasive Species Detective,” encourages students to think about how paying attention to their surroundings can protect against the spread of invasive species.

Pictured: one of last year’s winning submissions

“Detectives look for clues and use observation to solve crimes,” said Elizabeth Brusati, an environmental scientist with CDFW’s Invasive Species Program. “We want young people to look for ways to stop the spread of invasive species. Helpful actions could include choosing native plants for landscaping, not releasing unwanted pets into the wild, reporting invasive species sightings, and taking precautions to clean, drain and dry gear after visiting waterbodies.”

The contest is offered by CDFW’s Invasive Species Program as part of California Invasive Species Action Week, June 5-13.

There are three age divisions for youths in grades 2-4, 5-8 and 9-12. All types of media are welcome and encouraged, including (but not limited to) drawings, paintings, animations, comic strips, videos and public service announcements. Entries should reflect the 2021 theme: “Be An Invasive Species Detective.”

The top three winners in each division will receive awards and have their entries announced on CDFW’s Facebook page.

The deadline for art contest entries is May 5. Completed entries and entry forms should be submitted electronically. Submission instructions can be found on the CDFW website.

The goal of California Invasive Species Action Week is to increase public awareness of invasive species issues and encourage public participation in the fight against California’s invasive species and their impacts on our natural resources.

Please visit CDFW online for details about the 2021 contest and information on how to participate in Action Week.

The mission of CDFW’s Invasive Species Program is to reduce the impacts of invasive species on the wildlands and waterways of California. The program is involved in efforts to prevent the introduction of these species into the state, detect and respond to introductions when they occur, and prevent the spread of those species that have established.

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Media Contacts
Ken Paglia, CDFW Communications, (916) 825-7120 
Elizabeth Brusati, CDFW Invasive Species Program, (916) 376-8657