Hazards of Moving Live Finfish

 Transporting and relocating live finfish from one body of water to another can cause major environmental problems and is a serious offense punishable by fines and jail time. Lake Davis is a prime example of the havoc caused by the illegal introduction of a non-native species into a body of water. (DFG photo by Debra Hamilton)

Question: I ran into a bunch of guys recently who love to bass fish and so have been moving bass into the rivers. They think it’s ok, but I think not because bass eat trout and salmon fry. They say the water is too warm during the summer for trout. Is there anything we can do if we know they are taking a bunch of bass to the rivers to dump? Who do I contact if I know where and when it will be done next? (Anonymous)

Answer: Transporting and relocating live finfish from one body of water to another in California can cause serious environmental problems and is a serious offense punishable by fines and even jail time. If you have knowledge of this activity, you should immediately call our CALTIP line (888-DFG-CALTIP) and provide specific details, including suspect and vehicle descriptions, license plate numbers and locations of where the fish are being caught and dropped off.

Enormous problems can occur when live fish are transported from one body of water to another without the permission of DFG! Aside from the fact that the transported fish may not adapt well to their new surroundings or even die, the introduced fish can potentially disrupt the balance of existing species through increased predation, competition for the same limited food sources, disease and parasites.

Predator/prey imbalance – Case in point: the illegal introduction of northern pike into Lake Davis. This is a prime example of the havoc that may be caused by the illegal introduction of a non-native species into a body of water. The pike adapted well and reproduced quickly in their new home, and soon began preying upon and out-competing the trout of this premier fishery. Efforts to contain the pike and prevent their spread into the Sacramento Delta system (which could have proven catastrophic to the aquatic ecosystem, including California’s salmonid fisheries) were a huge task that went on for several years. A major rotenone chemical treatment in 2007 is thought to have eradicated them, although monitoring continues. Repairing the damage caused by this one illegal fish introduction involved hundreds of staff and cost millions of dollars.

Diseases – Another example of the consequences of people illegally moving fish (though in another state) involved the clandestine importation of trout into Colorado in the late 1980s. The fish carried whirling disease, which ultimately caused the demise of many of that state’s world-class rainbow trout fisheries and resulted in millions of dollars in damages and lost recreational opportunities for anglers. According to Dr. William Cox, DFG Program Manager of Fish Production and Distribution, this is but one example of many in which illegal fish movement has spread disease. DFG maintains a staff of pathologists and veterinarians to ensure that animals transferred from one location to another are healthy and will not result in disasters like those cited above.

Legal consequences – Law enforcement takes these illegal practices quite seriously. According to Captain Sherry Howell, violations related to moving live freshwater fish from one body of water and planting them in another are misdemeanor offenses (CCR, T-14 Section 1.63 and FGC Section 6400). These actions carry penalties ranging from fines of up to $5,000 and/or up to a year in jail, or both (FGC section 12007).

If the violation involves an aquatic nuisance species (ANS) such as northern pike, the penalties increase significantly. This is also a misdemeanor but is punishable by jail time of six months to one year, a fine of not more than $50,000 for each violation, or both (FGC section 12023). It may also include revocation of all of the defendant’s licenses and permits issued pursuant to the Fish and Game Code.

Also, the defendant can be held liable for damages to property and fisheries, and all costs for public and private response, treatment and remediation resulting from a violation involving an ANS (FGC Section 12023).

A reward may be available for those who provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of a person found guilty of violating FGC Section 6400 through the use of an aquatic nuisance species. Reports can be made using the toll-free CALTIP number (888-DFG-CALTIP / 888-334-2258) 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers’ identities will remain anonymous.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.

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