The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced that the emergency regulations implemented in The California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) last month to reduce the harvest of white sturgeon in state waters has been implemented, approved by the Office of Administrative Law.
The new regulations will reduce the number of fish that can be kept to one per year, reduce the slot limit to 42-48 inches, cap the number of white sturgeon a vessel can have of two per day and increasing the seasonal closure of sturgeon fishing in important spawning grounds.
The new regulations were implemented by the Commission based on the joint recommendations of CDFW and angling groups. The emergency action was taken in response to a long-term decline in the adult white sturgeon population as well as the effects of a harmful algal bloom (HAB) in the summer of 2022.
There are two species of sturgeon in California: green sturgeon and white sturgeon. The green sturgeon is listed as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The white sturgeon is listed in California as a Species of Special Concern.
Sturgeon is one of the oldest fish in existence with fossil records dating back over 200 million years. An individual white sturgeon can live up to 100 years and does not begin spawning until approximately 14 to 19 years of age. Scientists estimate that Central Valley white sturgeon successfully spawn every six to seven years. The abundance of white sturgeon has declined significantly from approximately 200,000 harvestable fish in 1997 to 33,000 (recent five-year average). Sturgeon fisheries in California have closed several times in the past due to overharvesting.
During the summer of 2022, a HAB in the bays of San Francisco and San Pablo caused the death of tens of thousands of fish including at least 864 sturgeon. Most sturgeon experts believe that probably thousands more sturgeons died during the HAB, sinking to the bottom of the bay’s waters and going unaccounted for.
The harvest is reduced to one white sturgeon for 2023 and 2024. Catch and release fishing for white sturgeon is still allowed with a valid sturgeon report card after a sturgeon is kept outside of the closures. as set forth in the California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Sections 5.80 (opens in new tab) and 27.95(opens in new tab). The slot limit has been reduced to 42-48 inches, and an additional two fish per boat per day. Fishing for white sturgeon will also be closed seasonally upstream of the Highway 50 bridge on the Sacramento River and the Interstate 5 bridge on the San Joaquin River from January 1 to May 31, 2024. This upstream area will reopen to catches of will release the fishery on June 1, 2024, when the spawning season is over.
Sturgeon Report Cards purchased in the 2023 calendar year remain valid for the remainder of 2023. All reporting requirements, tags and report cards remain in effect. Only one sturgeon harvest tag can be valid. Any remaining sturgeon harvest tags beyond the one still in place for the 2023 calendar year will be invalid for the remainder of 2023. Anglers who have already harvested one or more fish in 2023 will still be allowed to catch and release sturgeon for the remainder of 2023 with a valid Sturgeon Report Card. Changes to sturgeon harvest regulations may cause a delay in the availability of 2024 sturgeon report cards and a harvest tag.
Report cards for 2024 will go on sale soon. The Sturgeon Report Card requirements will remain in effect through 2024.
CDFW is currently working on a white sturgeon regulatory package to allow limited harvest. The regulatory package is scheduled to go through the Commission’s rulemaking process with a target effective date of January 2025.
For more information visit CDFW’s sturgeon web page. Questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.