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California curbs trout stocking in high-mountain lakes

YREKA, Calif. — Anglers visiting Siskiyou County's high-mountain lakes will see fewer trout to catch during the next two years while state biologists finish a massive study on the effects of trout-stocking on some native species.

The California Department of Fish and Game will curb its trout stocking into 2010 while it completes a court-ordered assessment of the effects of non-native stocking of fish statewide.

Waters such as Lake Siskiyou, Lake Shasta and the upper Sacramento River will not be affected by the change, which was ordered last week by a Sacramento Superior Court judge presiding in the two-year-old lawsuit.

But waters like East and West Boulder lakes, Castle Lake, Lower Gumboot Lake, and 29 other lakes and streams that typically received planted rainbow trout annually will receive no new complement of fish until the Environmental Impact Report on trout-stocking is complete.

The changes stem from an agreement between the DFG and the Pacific Rivers Council and the Center for Biological Diversity, whose 2006 lawsuit challenged the stocking.

It represents an expansion of what Judge Patrick Marlette initially allowed under a Nov. 6 ruling, which would have banned all trout stocking until the report was completed.

"We're still stocking more than half the lakes we normally stock," DFG spokeswoman Jordan Traverso said. "We're pleased we can continue this program."

Chris Frissell, director of science and conservation for the Portland-based council, said he believes the agreement affords protection where non-native stocking harms native species, while it also softens the judge's initial blanket ruling.

"It was in everybody's interest to tailor it from the initial language," Frissell said.

Siskiyou County residents may feel the pinch on angling in places like Lower Gumboot Lake, a favorite among less-able anglers, said Drake Davis, a Yreka sporting-goods store owner.

"A lot of older people go to fish those waters because they can catch fish and there is easy access," Davis said. "The public's just going to use it less."

The ruling bans state authorities from stocking most freshwater habitats that include 25 native fish and amphibians, ranging from golden trout to the mountain yellow-legged frog, until the completion of the study, which is required under the California Environmental Quality Act.

California was required by the court to complete that study by January 2010.

Until then, the prohibitions will be in place.

Most of the high-mountain lakes in Siskiyou County were stocked with small doses of fingerling trout, officials said.

Exceptions to last week's agreement include human-made reservoirs larger than 1,000 acres, smaller reservoirs not connected to a river or stream or those not within the red-legged frog's critical habitat.

Other exemptions are for stocking as mitigation for state or federal water projects and salmon and steelhead releases.

Other waters in the stocking ban include: the Freshwater Lagoon in Humboldt County; the South Fork of the Pit River in Modoc County; Brandy Creek in Shasta County; and several water bodies in the Trinity Alps of Trinity County.

Traverso said California authorities will not increase stocking in open waters to make up for the overall losses, and that no excess fish will remain in state hatcheries because of last week's agreement.

Frissell added that his group had no plans to file a similar suit in Oregon, which does not have the tighter environmental-quality law of California.

For a complete list of the water bodies that will not be stocked, as well as those that will be stocked, visit the agency's Web site at www.dfg.ca.gov.