I’ve been getting a ton of calls lately from folks complaining about spearfishermen on the American River shooting stripers. So, here’s the basic background:
A spearfishing organization called the Watermen proposed the regulation, which allows for spearfishing of striped bass in the Valley district May 1-Sept. 15 (see the regs for restrictions) to the DFW. The Department took it to the Fish & Game Commission, which unanimously passed it. So, bottom line: it’s legal. The biggest area of concern, from all the calls and emails I’ve received, is the American River which is very low right now and clear.
I’m going to open this up to public opinion here (let’s hear your comments), but first my 2 cents worth:
While I’m not a spearfisherman, I am not opposed to other anglers taking fish by legal methods. This won’t be much of an issue at all on the Feather and Sacramento rivers, where the water is more turbid and typically has more flow. On the American, however, I have some concerns. First off, it seems like this could be a bit of a public safety issue. The flows are dramatically low right now and the river is an extremely popular swimming and rafting spot. I’m not at all implying that spear anglers would intentionally shoot at somebody but it just seems like an accident could happen with so many user groups out there at the same time. There’s a no hunting/shooting regulation along the parkway for that same reason, so it seems a bit counter-intuitive that shooting underwater in the same area is okay.
Secondly, the American is a unique fishery. It doesn’t get the numbers of stripers that the other Valley streams get, but it harbors some of the state’s giants. These massive fish are few and far between and the population is fragile. I have snorkeled this river since I was 11 years old and those big bass will often swim right up to you. We used to hand-feed crawdads to the ones near the Watt launch and it makes me think that they would be very easy prey for a spear gun. I fear that this delicate population of monsters could get over-harvested in a matter of a few seasons if the big ones are targeted.
The Watermen have stated that they will not focus on the big fish if they feel taking them will adversely affect the population, and I will take them on their word — but they obviously can’t speak for all speargunners. On my charter trips, we “milk” stripers to see if they are females or males and then let the ladies go. That’s not something you can do when shooting a fish, so I hope the spear anglers will focus only the smaller, under 10-pound class fish which are typically males. If you want to get into the salmon vs. stripers argument (which I don’t), it’s those smaller fish that feed more on smolt than the giants do. The big ladies eat shad, suckers, pikeminnow, etc.
I’m not necessarily lobbying for a ban here, but I just want to make sure a small user group doesn’t have too much impact on a fishery that’s been enjoyed by a vast amount of rod and reel anglers for eons. Perhaps there’s a way we can compromise.
Your thoughts? This is your chance to have your opinions heard…the DFW will be listening. Hopefully, some spear anglers will also chime in…