White sturgeon harvest reduced for 2023-2024 season

Scientist holding white sturgeon on deck of a boat

The California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) enacted emergency regulations yesterday to reduce the harvest of white sturgeon in state waters. The new regulations will reduce the number of fish that can be kept to one per year, reduce the slot limit to 42-48 inches, cap the number of white sturgeon that can be possessed on a vessel at two per day and add seasonal closures to sturgeon fishing in key spawning areas. The new regulations are expected to go into effect in late October or early November following approval by the Office of Administrative Law.

The new regulations were enacted by the Commission following a joint recommendation by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and angling groups. The emergency action was taken in response to long-term declines in adult white sturgeon populations as well as impacts of a harmful algal bloom (HAB) in the summer of 2022.

“It was a difficult decision to recommend restrictions to another fishery in California,” said CDFW Fisheries Branch Chief Jay Rowan. “The angling community representatives really stepped up by offering deep concessions to help reduce sturgeon harvest and showed, yet again, that they are committed to protecting this resource.”

There are two sturgeon species in California: green sturgeon and white sturgeon. Green sturgeon are listed as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. White sturgeon are listed in California as a Species of Special Concern.

Sturgeon are one of the oldest fish in existence with fossil records dating back more than 200 million years. Individual white sturgeon can live about 100 years and don’t start spawning until approximately 14 to 19 years old. Scientists estimate that white sturgeon in the Central Valley only spawn successfully every six to seven years. White sturgeon abundance has declined significantly from approximately 200,000 harvestable fish in 1997 to around 33,000 (recent five-year average). Sturgeon fisheries in California have closed multiple times in the past due to overharvest.

“Like other long-lived fish that spawn infrequently, sturgeon are susceptible to population declines due to a variety of environmental stressors and overharvest,” said Rowan.

During the summer of 2022, a HAB in the San Francisco and San Pablo bays caused the death of tens of thousands of fish including at least 864 sturgeon. Most sturgeon experts believe there were likely thousands more sturgeon killed during the HAB which sank to the bottom of bay waters and were not counted.

Harvest will be reduced to one white sturgeon for 2023 and 2024. Catch and release fishing for white sturgeon will still be allowed with a valid sturgeon report card after one sturgeon is kept except for closures outlined in California Code of Regulations, title 14, sections 5.80 and 27.95. The slot limit was reduced to 42-48 inches, and a limit of two fish per vessel per day was added.  Fishing for white sturgeon will also be closed seasonally upstream of the Highway 50 bridge on the Sacramento River and Interstate 5 bridge on the San Joaquin River from January 1 to May 31, 2024. This upstream area will re-open to catch and release fishing on June 1, 2024, once spawning season is over.

Sturgeon Report Cards purchased in the 2023 calendar year remain valid for the remainder of 2023. All reporting, tag and report card requirements remain in effect. Only one sturgeon harvest tag will be valid. Any remaining sturgeon harvest tags beyond one still in possession for the 2023 calendar year will be invalid for the remainder of 2023 once the new regulations take effect. Anglers that have already harvested one or more fish in 2023 will still be allowed to catch and release sturgeon for the remainder of 2023 with a valid Sturgeon Report Card. The changes to sturgeon harvest regulations may cause a delay in availability of 2024 sturgeon report cards and the single harvest tag. Report cards for 2024 will be available for sale as soon as possible after November 15, 2023 and before January 1, 2024. Sturgeon Report Card requirements will remain in effect for 2024.

CDFW is currently working on a white sturgeon regulation package to allow for limited harvest. The regulation package is scheduled to go through the Commission regulation setting process with a target effective date of January 2025.

For more information visit CDFW’s sturgeon web page. Questions can be sent to [email protected].

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