Federal amendment takes aim at striped bass

An issue at the heart of our water debates – whether nonnative fish prey heavily on salmon and steelhead – wriggled through Congress this week.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment proposed by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, that would require attention to this issue in any recovery plan for salmon or steelhead under the Endangered Species Act.

Supporters see the amendment as a way to slow efforts to increase river flows for these native fish at the expense of farms and cities that divert the water. Their main target is striped bass, an introduced species that eats the young native fish we are trying to save.

“While we’re spending millions trying to save the lives of these fish, which play a huge role in the allocation of water, we must also be working to eliminate the threat that predator fish pose,” Denham said in a news release.

The idea raises concerns in two camps – environmental groups and bass anglers. The former say predation could be part of the problem but the biggest need is increased flows in rivers. The latter do not want to lose a fish that is among the most popular in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its tributaries.

How to rid the waters of striped bass has not been decided, should that be the plan. At least one irrigation district has suggested hosting a fishing derby with a very, very high limit on the catch. Bass fishermen, as much as they enjoy catching the critters, want lower limits so the population sustains itself.

The House voted 245 to 181 for Denham’s proposal, a one-paragraph amendment to a $51.4 billion spending bill for fiscal 2016 at the Justice and Commerce departments and several other agencies. Commerce includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees salmon and steelhead because they spend part of their lives in the Pacific Ocean.

The overall spending bill passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.

This is the second straight week that the Farm Beat has morphed into the Fish Beat. Last week, it reported on a Sacramento-area sewer project that will clean up some of the water entering the Delta. Pollution control is among the measures – along with flows, predator control, streambed restoration and more – that are in play in the native fish debate.

Have an idea for the Farm Beat? Contact John Holland: (209) 578-2385,