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Outdoors Q&A: Posing for Sturgeon Photos

The Department of Fish & Game answers questions about state regulations on that issue and others.

By Carrie Wilson |

Question: I’ve seen several pictures over the years of anglers hoisting oversized sturgeon out of the water and dragging them back to the dock for pictures. Isn’t it against the law to treat fish that are to be released this way? How should oversized sturgeon be handled, given that the justifiably proud angler would like to get a picture or two before releasing? (Jim J.)

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Carrie Wilson
Answer: There are two important issues here — the regulations and doing what is best for the fish. The regulations state that “all fish … less than the legal minimum size or greater than the maximum legal size must be returned immediately to the water from which they were taken” (CCR Title 14, Section 1.62). No sturgeon less than 46 inches in length or greater than 66 inches in length may be taken or possessed.

Anglers often choose to keep the biggest fish possible and then, for an accurate assessment, take the oversized fish out of the water to measure. By doing this, the angler risks being cited for taking an obviously oversized fish out of the water and keeping it out of the water too long. If the fish is not legal and it is not immediately released, the person possessing the fish may be cited for possessing an illegal fish. If the fish is harmed during the release or photographing and it dies, the person who took the fish may be cited for the illegal take of the fish.

As for what’s best for the fish, Department of Fish & Game sturgeon expert Marty Gingras says the answer is clear: Do not remove from the water any part — particularly the head — of a fish that you will release. They are suffocating when their gills are removed from the water, and blood-chemistry studies show they are clearly stressed from both the fight and from handling after the fight.

Here’s a recommendation for handling oversized sturgeon:

» Keep the oversized sturgeon in the water and take photographs there. This regulation has worked in Oregon and Washington, and consequently, they have enjoyed a premier oversize white sturgeon catch-and-release fishery for many, many years.

» Do not hoist a sturgeon up from its gill plates for a “sturgeon necktie” photograph.

» Do not drag a sturgeon ashore for a photograph. It is risky for both angler and fish — the angler may be cited and the fish may stress out and die. Keep the oversized sturgeon in the water and take photographs.

Handling these behemoths with care is essential; they are the broodstock building future generations of these incredible fish for tomorrow’s anglers.

Question: When the DFG releases trout from one of its hatcheries, can the trout be considered farm raised or are they treated much differently than farm raised (e.g. fed antibiotics, growth hormones or other “unnatural” stuff)? Do the same mercury warnings apply to them as is advertised for the wild caught fish from some lakes/reservoirs? (Sigrid T.)

Answer: The fish raised and released from DFG hatcheries can be considered “farm raised,” although hatchery rather than farm is a more appropriate term. According to retired DFG senior fisheries biologist Dennis Lee, the fish are fed commercially prepared diets, typically a pellet-type fish feed. Fish meal is the principal ingredient, although fish feed usually contains some supplements such as vitamins or shrimp meal, but no hormones. Feeds are analyzed for content and may not contain adulterants such as pesticides.

All DFG hatcheries are routinely monitored by a staff of fish pathologists. If fish become sick, a therapeutic treatment may be prescribed using therapeutic drugs or chemicals approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use on food fish. These are either applied to hatchery water or in the case of antibiotics, milled into feed by the manufacturer.

As far as your concerns about mercury warnings, according to Dr. William Cox, DFG’s fish production and distribution program manager, mercury is acquired by fish in waters having high levels of mercury. Fish accumulate mercury by eating small invertebrates, crustaceans and baitfish from those local waters. Larger fish that have lived exclusively in those waters may have elevated levels of mercury. Fish raised in hatcheries are fed diets free of mercury or other contaminants, and therefore are free of those chemicals at the time of planting. Health advisory warnings for affected waters are listed in our sport fish regulation booklets, according to the California Department of Health Services.

Question: A friend of mine was in search of fossils in the eastern San Diego desert when he found a bighorn sheep skull shed that looked like it been there for a quite awhile. Not knowing whether he could keep it, he hid it somewhere close to the place where he found it. Can we keep it? (Rami A.)

Answer: No, it is not legal for a member of the public to collect or possess desert bighorn skulls without a scientific collecting permit. Only museums, schools, etc., may possess them, and only with the appropriate permits. If you or your friend would like to contact us with information on the skull, we would be happy to see that it is placed with a school or museum, where it can be displayed for many to see, study and appreciate.

Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Game. Her DFG-related question-and-answer column appears weekly at www.dfg.ca.gov/QandA/. She can be reached at [email protected]




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