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.

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

Aquarium Moss Balls Threaten to Spread Invasive Mussels

A zebra mussel on an aquarium moss ball. Photo courtesy of Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is asking retailers and consumers to help stop the spread of a dangerous invasive mussel that has been found in aquarium moss balls sold in California and nationwide.

CDFW was notified last week that zebra mussels, highly invasive freshwater mussels which are illegal to possess in California, were found on aquatic moss balls at a national pet supply retailer. Investigators traced the origin of the mussel-contaminated moss balls to a distributor in Southern California. CDFW’s Law Enforcement Division worked with the distributor to immediately cease outgoing shipments and prevent the receipt of additional importations. State and federal law enforcement agencies continue to investigate the potential supply chains associated with this product, and have since identified several additional suppliers to California and nationwide.

“If zebra mussels escape from aquaria and into the environment, they pose the risk of causing enormous environmental and economic impacts,” said Martha Volkoff, CDFW environmental program manager. “Once introduced to rivers, creeks, lakes and canals, mussels multiply quickly, encrust surfaces and disrupt ecosystems, water delivery systems and recreational opportunities. It is imperative that pet suppliers and aquarists take action to prevent these mussels that have entered the aquarium trade from reaching our waterways.”

California law prohibits possession, importation, shipment and release of zebra mussels in any waters within the state. Possession of zebra mussels in California, live or dead, and whether intentional or not, is a violation of California Fish and Game Code section 2301.

CDFW is calling upon pet supply retailers and home aquarium enthusiasts to prevent the spread of mussels from aquariums.

Retailers:

  • Immediately pull moss balls from your shelves and store in a secure location until they can be destroyed. Also inspect all other moist and aquatic plant products. All moss balls, and any other products found to be contaminated with mussels should be placed in a bag, frozen overnight and disposed of in the municipal trash.
  • Immediately inspect all fish tanks and filtration systems for mussels. If mussels are found, cease sale of all products from those tanks. Remove all mussels and live plants, place in a bag, freeze overnight and dispose of in the municipal trash. Clean and disinfect all aquaria, filters and decorations.

Consumers:

If you have added moss balls to your aquarium or fish bowl in the past year, assume that you may have introduced zebra mussels and take one of the following actions:

Alternative 1. If you observe mussels in your aquaria, per U.S. Fish and Wildlife recommendations, empty and disinfect the aquarium and all of its contents: fws.gov/fisheries/ANS/zebra-mussel-disposal.html. Even if you do not observe mussels consider decontaminating your tank and all of its contents. (Considering the significant investment many aquarists make in establishing and maintaining their aquaria, disinfecting and reestablishing a system per these recommendations may not be a realistic expectation. If so, please adhere to Alternative 2.)

Alternative 2. Quarantine and monitor your aquarium for at least six months. Complete instructions for quarantining your tank, and an observation log to assist you with monitoring your tank, are available on CDFW’s website: wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Invasives/Aquarium-Moss-Balls. The quarantine would end six months after no mussels are observed.

For additional information and guidance, please call CDFW’s Invasive Mussel Hotline at (866) 440-9530 or visit wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Invasives/Quagga-Mussels.

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

Feather River Fish Hatchery Steps in to Raise Inland Chinook Salmon Eggs Amid Glass Fire

In addition to destroying and threatening thousands of homes and businesses, the devastating Glass Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties jeopardized the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Inland Chinook Salmon Program – until the Feather River Fish Hatchery in Oroville came to the rescue. The Feather River Fish Hatchery is owned and maintained by the California Department of Water Resources – and operated by CDFW.
 
Each year, CDFW raises approximately 800,000 Chinook salmon smolts and fingerlings for planting and recreational fishing in large foothill and valley reservoirs from Fresno County to Trinity County. These landlocked salmon often grow quite large and fill an ecological and recreational angling niche in these deep-water impoundments not typically occupied by other fish species.
 
The state record inland Chinook salmon came from Trinity Lake in 2013 weighing 20 pounds, 15 ounces. Anglers regularly catch inland Chinook salmon weighing 7 to 8 pounds at Lake Oroville and 5 to 6 pounds at Folsom Lake.
 
The inland Chinook salmon originate with eggs collected and spawned at the Feather River Fish Hatchery each fall from salmon returning to the Feather River. The eggs and fish are excess to the hatchery’s annual production goals. About 1.4 million Chinook salmon eggs were collected from the Feather River Fish Hatchery in early October and designated for the Inland Chinook Salmon Program.
 
Ordinarily, most of these eggs are taken to CDFW’s Silverado Fisheries Base in Napa County for incubation, where they remain until the baby salmon are big enough for stocking. The Silverado Fisheries Base suffered power outages and came under threat of evacuation as a result of the Glass Fire.
 
In response to the emergency and with assistance from CDFW’s Inland Chinook Salmon Program staff, temporary adjustments were made at the Feather River Fish Hatchery to keep the eggs, incubate them and grow out the salmon until the Silverado Fisheries Base is once again able to accommodate the fish, likely in November.
 
CDFW staff set up additional fish-rearing incubators in their Inland Chinook Salmon Building. That building typically only has space to hold 300,000 eggs and baby salmon destined for Lake Oroville. Thanks to the extra effort, the Feather River Hatchery is now holding 1.4 million eggs that represent the entire annual production of the state’s Inland Chinook Salmon Program.
 
“Understanding the inherent risk of losing an entire year’s production, CDFW staff will play a crucial role in ensuring future inland Chinook fisheries in Folsom, Oroville and eight other lakes and reservoirs,” said Kyle Murphy, a senior environmental scientist with CDFW’s Fisheries Branch. “This interagency teamwork will have long-reaching effects for thousands of anglers in central and northern California.”
 
Adding to the stress, the Feather River Fish Hatchery itself was ordered to evacuate for a day Oct. 15 due to a nearby fire in Oroville. Both the Oroville fire and the Glass Fire have been contained and no longer pose threats to either facility.
 
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Media Contacts:
Jay Rowan, CDFW Fisheries Branch, (916) 212-3164
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 804-1714
 
  • Feather River Hatchery exterior
  • Egg trays at Feather River Hatchery
  • Tanks at Feather River Hatchery

CDFW employee stocking eastern Sierra waters with trout

Fish Plants Continue in Eastern Sierra Waters

After a massive loss of fish at three hatchery facilities in the eastern Sierra and Southern California this summer, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has implemented an updated stocking plan to continue putting trout into waters that are popular with anglers.

Waterways in CDFW’s South Coast Region and Inland Deserts Region are typically stocked with trout from Mojave River Hatchery, Black Rock Hatchery and Fish Springs Hatchery, but this year, fish at all three facilities were contaminated by a bacterial outbreak. On July 20, CDFW announced that extensive effort to treat the fish had been unsuccessful, and pathologists recommended euthanizing 3.2 million fish and decontaminating the facilities in order to stop the spread of Lactococcus garvieae, which is similar to streptococcus.

“Euthanization was not the outcome we hoped for, but after exhausting all treatments, it was apparent that clearing the raceways, sterilizing the facilities and starting over was the only option,” said Jay Rowan, CDFW’s Statewide Hatchery Program Manager.

Anglers were understandably concerned about reduced fishing opportunity for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, and CDFW Hatchery Program staff immediately began to construct a “Plan B” to ensure that planting could continue in some capacity.

CDFW’s multiphase stocking plan calls for the reallocation of fish from lower priority waters in other parts of the state to the highest use waters in areas normally planted by the depopulated hatcheries this time of year. During “phase one” (which began the last week of July and will run through mid-October), 16 water bodies in the Inland Desert and South Coast regions will be stocked with fish from the Moccasin Creek and San Joaquin hatcheries. During “phase two” (which runs from the second half of October through early spring), additional waters in Southern California will be stocked by Fillmore Hatchery. Phase two is dependent on water temperatures cooling enough to plant. During “phase 3” (spring and summer 2021), CDFW will address stocking for the trout openers and summer angling opportunities.

CDFW is still finalizing the list of waters, as well as fish numbers, that will be stocked in phases 2 and 3.

“The loss of 3.2 million fish is staggering, but we absolutely recognize the importance of these fisheries, and we are doing everything we can to minimize the impact of this loss to anglers and the communities that depend on them, while balancing the needs of the rest of the state,” Rowan explained.

In addition to the reallocation plans, Hot Creek Hatchery near the town of Mammoth was not affected by the bacterial outbreak and has continued with its scheduled plants in the eastern Sierra.

Meanwhile, the three affected facilities – Mojave River Hatchery, Black Rock Hatchery and Fish Springs Hatchery – are undergoing extensive cleaning. All surfaces that have come in contact with fish or water on the hatchery grounds are being pressure washed, allowed to dry in the summer sun and then decontaminated with a hydrogen peroxide solution that breaks down the biofilm the bacteria uses to survive on surfaces. Another drying period follows. After decontamination is complete, all new fish and eggs brought into the hatcheries will have to be vaccinated to prevent a recurrence of the bacterial outbreak.

The current goal is for the three hatcheries to be back to full capacity by the fall or winter of 2021.

For real-time updates, California anglers can refer to CDFW’s Fish Planting Schedule. This schedule is updated directly by CDFW hatchery staff. Although it contains current information, all fish plants are subject to change depending on road, water, weather and operational conditions.

Trout fishing can be a safe outdoor activity that maintains physical distancing from others as we work to minimize transmission of COVID-19. Anglers must make sure to stay six feet from anyone not in their same household, wear a face mask, wash hands with soap and water whenever possible, follow all fishing regulations and stay safe.

For additional information, please see CDFW’s frequently asked questions about the L. garvieae outbreak. Also, members of the public can email questions to hatcherybacteriainfo@wildlife.ca.gov.

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Media Contacts:
Jay Rowan, CDFW Hatchery Program, (916) 212-3164
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 804-1714

California Fisheries Relief Funding Soon to be Available for Select Sectors Affected by COVID-19

Coastal and marine fishery participants – including licensed commercial fishermen, fish buyers, aquaculture businesses, charter boat owners and guides – who have experienced a loss of income due to the effects of COVID-19 may be eligible for federal relief funding disbursed through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

The funding is part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This more than $2 trillion economic relief package provides direct economic assistance for American workers, families and small businesses that have been impacted COVID-19. About $18 million in CARES funding was earmarked specifically for fisheries assistance in California.

CDFW estimates that there are more than 11,500 potentially eligible applicants for this funding, including individuals who work in the offshore, shoreside, aquaculture, commercial passenger fishing vessel and guide sectors.

Eligibility will be based on, among other things, a minimum 35 percent loss of fishing related income due to COVID-19 between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2020. Applicants must also submit documentation demonstrating active involvement in a qualifying sector. See the approved disbursement plan.

The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) is serving as fiscal agent for these funds. PSMFC will mail claim forms to all potentially eligible applicants to the address on file with CDFW. Forms and documentation must be returned within 30 days to be eligible for disbursement. Following the close of the 30-day response period, final disbursement totals will be calculated and relief checks will be issued to qualified applicants. CDFW is requesting all potentially eligible applicants update their address on file by Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. See the address verification instructions.

For more information, please refer to CDFW’s web page for the CARES Act. Email inquiries can be sent to CDFW at CARESfisheriesInfo@wildlife.ca.gov.

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Media Contacts:
Craig Shuman, CDFW Marine Region, (916) 215-9694
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 804-1714