Will killing stripers save salmon?

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
-A +A
There are lots of people in California who want all striped bass in the state dead. They say that the striped bass is a non-native apex predator (true) that dines on juvenile Chinook salmon (also true). They would like us to believe that the striper, therefore, is the cause of the salmon’s collapse (not so true). So, just who are these people? Well, many of them are involved with water agencies in southern areas of the Golden State — where they need Northern California water to sustain their cities and crops. They, of course, are only concerned with salmon because they know if the fishery continues on in a state of collapse like is has in recent years that could mean water restrictions for them. But to try to throw the public off the fact that their water diversions from the rivers and Delta have had catastrophic effects on all the estuary’s fisheries, these folks have tried to pin the blame on striped bass. Get rid of the predatory non-natives, they say, and the salmon will once again flourish. And now you can apparently also add the feds to the list of folks who want the stripers gone. According to Peter B. Moyle, Professor of Fish Biology at UC Davis, on his blog, the National Marine Fisheries Service has recently requested that the California Fish and Game Commission remove all restrictions on striped bass fishing. The logic remains the same — reduce predation and you will increase the number of salmon. But I call B.S. I will freely admit that I am not a biologist, but 25 years of empirical data collected in the field, being on the water on a daily basis and pursuing both of these species in question should account for something. Here are my two cents: First off, yes, stripers eat juvenile salmon. There’s no denying that fact. I see it every spring – and have done so for as long as I have been tromping around the waters of the Sacramento Valley. But do they eat enough to put a dent in the population? I say no way in heck. All one needs to do is look back at the glory years of salmon in the valley – the mid 1990’s through 2002 (the year we had nearly 800,000 salmon in the Sac system). In those epic years of salmon fishing, we also had banner striper fishing. In fact, Chinook salmon and striped bass have coexisted since stripers were first imported to California from the East Coast in the mid 1800’s. Plus, if you want to use the logic that non-native predators are the primary cause of the decline of the salmon, you’d better be prepared to wage all-out war on all the other critters that don’t belong in California that somehow have access to the river/Delta system. Fish like largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and spotted bass should then all be eradicated. Don’t forget brown trout, mackinaw and kokanee — kill ‘em all. And all varieties of catfish, crappie, bluegill and all other panfish need to be removed for California’s waters as well. And the list goes on and on. Are we ready to go that far? Especially when the real root of the salmon’s demise has been poor ocean conditions and record freshwater exports? Dr. Moyle also has some very interesting points to make — and he, unlike me, is a highly regarded expert and biologist. He says that by reducing the striped bass’ numbers, we may actually boost the populations of other predators. “The ‘release’ from predation by striped bass is highly likely to benefit many other alien fish that are also known predators and competitors on endangered fishes,” he says. And, he concludes by making my points sound less like the ramblings of a disgruntled fisherman and those of somebody who actually may know a thing or two: “The key to restoring populations of desirable species is to return the Delta to a more variable, estuarine environment,” says Moyle. “Reducing striped bass and other predator populations is unlikely to make a difference in saving endangered fishes, and will serve only to distract attention from the real problems. “Any program to control striped bass should carefully consider the likely consequences. If initiated, it should involve an intensive study effort on the impacts of the program and an adaptive management plan (missing from all current proposals) to make sure the alleged cure is not worse than the supposed disease.” To read more, click on J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose outdoors pieces have been published nationally. Find him online at