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CDFW report to Fish & Game Commission: Petition Evaluation, ESA listing of White Sturgeon

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) 2024 submits a Report to the Fish and Game Commission regarding the Evaluation of the petition from San Francisco Baykeeper, The Bay Institute, Restore the Delta, and California Sportfishing Protection Alliance to list White Sturgeon as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act (ESA).

California Department of Fish and Wildlife, P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento CA 94244-2090. 19 pp. To reach the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Fisheries Branch that oversees Sturgeon, email sturgeon@wildlife.ca.gov

Click here to read full report PDF file 

Executive Summary

San Francisco Baykeeper, The Bay Institute, Restore the Delta, and California Sportfishing Protection Alliance submitted a petition (Petition) to the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) to list White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) as threatened pursuant to the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). White Sturgeon are an anadromous fish native to California, where they primarily reside in San Francisco Bay and the Delta and spawn in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and associated tributaries. They are slow- growing, late maturing, and long-lived, and are able to spawn multiple times during their lives. Historically, abundance estimates for the California population ranged between 175,000-200,000 legal-sized fish; the most recent five-year average abundance estimate indicates there are now approximately 33,000 legal-sized fish in the population.

On December 7, 2023, the Commission referred the Petition to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (Department) in accordance with Fish and Game Code section 2073 (Cal. Reg. Notice Register 2024, No. 1-Z, p. 26). Pursuant to Fish and Game Code section 2073.5 and California Code of Regulations, title 14, section 670.1, the Department prepared this evaluation report (Petition Evaluation) within 120 days of receiving the Petition. The purpose of the Petition Evaluation is to evaluate the sufficiency of the scientific information contained in the Petition in relation to other relevant information possessed or received by the Department during the evaluation period, and to recommend to the Commission whether the Petition should be accepted and considered.

Summary of the information presented in the petition:

  • Life History, Range, Distribution (including map): The Petition provides sufficient information regarding the life history, current range, and distribution of White Sturgeon, including a current distribution map.
  • Habitat necessary for survival: The Petition provides sufficient information regarding the diverse spawning, rearing, holding, and foraging habitats used by White Sturgeon across fresh, estuarine, and ocean waters.
  • Abundance and population trends: The Petition provides sufficient information regarding current White Sturgeon abundance estimates and population trends based on CDFW monitoring.
  • Factors affecting the ability to survive and reproduce: The Petition provides sufficient information regarding factors threatening White Sturgeon survival and reproduction. It identifies Central Valley water
  • management infrastructure and operations, overharvest in the recreational fishery, and harmful algal blooms leading to both direct mortality and impaired water conditions as the three primary concerns. Climate change, vessel strikes, dredging, poaching, and water contaminants are also referenced.

    • Degree and immediacy of threat: The Petition provides sufficient information to suggest that threats to long-term survival of White Sturgeon will continue or potentially worsen in the future. It identifies the most significant threats as harmful algal blooms, recreational fishing, and water diversions.
    • Impact of existing management efforts: The Petition contains sufficient information explain concerns that existing and foreseeable regulatory mechanisms and management efforts will not adequately protect White Sturgeon from impacts that threaten their long-term survival. It states concerns that proposed voluntary agreements, updates to the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, and plans for Sites Reservoir and the Delta Conveyance Project would impair water timing and quality and species recruitment, and states concerns that the levels of harvest targeted in fishing regulations are not consistent with the goal of maintaining or restoring a stable population.
    • Suggestions for future management: The Petition provides sufficient recommendations of management actions that would reduce key stressors, improving water flows and timing, water quality, reduce export and harvest mortality, and improve monitoring efforts.
    • Availability and sources of information. The Petition references 68 peer- reviewed or public documents, including numerous documents authored by the Department. The references are current and appropriate.After reviewing the Petition and other relevant information, the Department has determined that the Petition meets the requirements in Fish and Game Code section 2072.3 and California Code of Regulations, title 14, section 670.1, subdivision (d)(1). In completing its Petition Evaluation, the Department has determined that there is sufficient scientific information to indicate that the petitioned action to list White Sturgeon as threatened under CESA may be warranted. Therefore, the Department recommends that the Commission accept the petition for further consideration pursuant to CESA.

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