By William W. Abbott
Center for Biological Diversity v. Department of Fish and Wildlife (2015) 234 Cal.App.4th 214.
For over 100 years, the State of California has operated fish hatcheries. In the last twenty years, concerns have developed over the potential impacts of stocked fish on native and wild animals. Evidence suggested that amphibians in high altitude lakes were particularly vulnerable. Beginning in 2001, the then Department of Fish and Game begin performing surveys of high altitude lakes, completing over 16,000 surveys. The surveys formed the basis of management plans for 27 watershed areas. The Department also began working on hatchery genetic management plans, a planning tool under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. (As of January 2010, none of these plans had been adopted.) In 2006, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed suit, claiming that the hatchery and stocking efforts were not exempt from CEQA review. In 2007, the court granted the writ of mandate compelling CEQA compliance, but did not suspend the hatchery and restocking program. The Department did not appeal, and proceeded with an EIR. In 2008, the Department moved to extend the deadline to complete the EIR, based in part that program funding was in part federal, and that the EIR would be combined with an EIS. In early 2010, the Department certified a program EIR, covering not only the state’s hatchery and stocking program, but Fishing in the City, Aquarium Education Project and fish stocking practices by private stocking companies working in private and public water. The EIR concluded that there were impacts to amphibians, and developed a new protocol requiring pre-stocking surveys. Based upon an evaluation by a biologist, if potential impacts could occur then no stocking could take place until the Department developed and implemented an aquatic biodiversity management plan. If no impacts were anticipated, then stocking could proceed, a decision valid for five years. The EIRs analysis was based upon a baseline of 2004-2008, which included hatchery and stocking practices. As mitigation for impacts to wild salmon and steelhead populations, the Department committed to the hatchery genetic management plans, including federal approval. Additional mitigation measures were developed and applied to private stocking permit operators.