BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



                                                                  AB 165
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          Date of Hearing:   April 16, 2013

                   ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON WATER, PARKS AND WILDLIFE
                                Anthony Rendon, Chair
               AB 165 (Gaines, Beth) - As Introduced:  January 23, 2013
           
          SUBJECT  :   Commercial fishing: crayfish

           SUMMARY  :   This bill lifts the ban on sale and purchase of  
          crayfish taken from Lake Tahoe or the Lake Tahoe Basin and  
          includes both legislative findings and guidelines for any  
          prospective regulations authorizing commercial crayfish  
          harvesting in Lake Tahoe or the Lake Tahoe Basin.  Specifically,  
           this bill  :
           
          1)Deletes the Fish and Game Code section barring the sale or  
            purchase of crayfish taken from Lake Tahoe or the Lake Tahoe  
            Basin.

          2)States that it is the intent of the Legislature that any  
            commercial taking of crayfish from Lake Tahoe or the Lake  
            Tahoe Basin be for the primary purpose of reducing and  
            controlling the crayfish population.  Further states  
            legislative intent that commercial taking of crayfish be  
            allowed only as is consistent with state goals for management  
            of invasive species and with state environmental standards.

          3)Requires the Fish and Game Commission (Commission) to ensure  
            that its regulations for the taking of crayfish from Lake  
            Tahoe or the Lake Tahoe Basin for commercial purposes be  
            consistent with the Lake Tahoe Region Aquatic Invasive Species  
            Management Plan.

           EXISTING LAW  

          1)Since 1970, prohibits the sale or purchase of crayfish taken  
            from Lake Tahoe or the Lake Tahoe Basin.

          2)Requires commercial fishing licenses, crayfish permits, and  
            commercial fishing vessel registration for commercial crayfish  
            harvest operations.  Limits the size of crayfish traps to  
            three feet in greatest dimension and requires the immediate  
            return of other species taken in crayfish traps.

          3)Confers authority to the Commission to set regulations for the  








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            take and possession of crayfish and to prohibit the use of  
            crayfish traps that will injure fish or create "unnecessarily  
            large" amounts of bycatch.  

          4)Under regulations promulgated by the Commission, prohibits the  
            take of crayfish for commercial purposes from all lakes and  
            reservoirs and limits take in certain California counties,  
            including Placer and El Dorado Counties, to areas west of  
            Highway 49.  Further requires that crayfish legally caught  
            under a commercial license be used only for human consumption  
            or for aquaculture.

           FISCAL EFFECT  :   Unknown

           
          COMMENTS  :

           Legislative History: Why is a commercial crayfish fishery in  
          Lake Tahoe banned?  :  In the late 1960's, a researcher from  
          Sweden named Dr. Sture Abrahamsson came to the United States to  
          conduct ecological research on the crayfish in Lake Tahoe.   
          During his research, he worked with Dr. Charles R. Goldman, a  
          noted limnologist at the University of California, Davis (UC  
          Davis), on a project aimed to protect the future of Lake Tahoe.   
          On behalf of the Swedish Fisheries Board and with full consent  
          and knowledge of the California Department of Fish and Game, Dr.  
          Abrahamsson also collected approximately 100,000 crayfish.  The  
          stated purpose of the crayfish collection was not only  
          ecological research but also export to Sweden to reestablish the  
          crayfish population following a deleterious fungus outbreak.   
          The crayfish from Lake Tahoe, estimated to number over 55  
          million adults at that time, were immune to this fungus and  
          were, therefore, an ideal replacement stock. 
          
          Despite the researchers' and state agencies' understanding,  
          rumors abounded that this large extraction of crayfish was for  
          commercial purposes.  In January of 1970, Assembly Member Eugene  
          A. Chappie introduced AB 465, which created the existing law at  
          Fish and Game Code section 8490 banning the buying or selling of  
          crayfish from Lake Tahoe or the Lake Tahoe Basin.  Assembly  
          Member Chappie soon thereafter sent a letter to Dr. Goldman  
          inquiring about the recent removal of a large number of crayfish  
          from Lake Tahoe.  The Department of Fish and Game, Dr. Goldman,  
          and Dr. Abrahamsson responded with letters assuring that  
          crayfish were only taken from Lake Tahoe for the permitted  








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          purposes of ecological research and limited export to Sweden.   
          These letters apparently did not ease concerns about the  
          potential depletion of Lake Tahoe's crayfish by domestic and  
          foreign commercial operations.  AB 456 ultimately became law.  

           Species and Ecological Background  :  The signal crayfish  
          (Pacifastacus leniusculus) is native to freshwaters within the  
          Pacific Northwest coast.  The Truckee watershed was first seeded  
          with crayfish in the early 1900s.  Some of the crustaceans were  
          planted by anglers to provide food for the trout deposited in  
          Lake Tahoe in the late 1800's, and some were most likely planted  
          as a food source for locals.  

          For years, crayfish were a dietary staple for nonnative trout  
          and kokanee salmon in Tahoe, and the signal crayfish population  
          was kept relatively under control.  In the 1960's, researchers  
          from UC Davis estimated that there were 56 million crayfish in  
          Lake Tahoe.  However, around the same time as the crayfish  
          controversy and the resulting ban on commercial crayfish  
          harvesting, a species of shrimp (Mysis relicta) was released  
          into Lake Tahoe.  With the opportunity for easier prey, the fish  
          began feeding on the shrimp instead of the newly protected  
          crayfish.  In 2001, a different group of scientists estimated  
          that the crayfish population had increased to 220 million.  The  
          author's background materials estimate that there are now 240  
          million crayfish in Lake Tahoe, and news articles have placed  
          this number as high as 280 million.  The dramatic crayfish  
          population growth over the past half century has been attributed  
          to decreased predation due to the shift in the lake trout's  
          diet.  Climate warming may also be driving crayfish production.   
           

          Crayfish are still a major food resource for invasive, warm  
          water fish species, such as smallmouth bass, largemouth bass,  
          and bluegill species.  The increasing numbers of crayfish are  
          believed to contribute to the population growth of these  
          species.  Crayfish have also been found to excrete nitrogen and  
          phosphorus, which are important stimulators of algae production.  
           Thus, crayfish are believed to contribute to the degradation of  
          water clarity in the lake.

           Commercial Crayfish in Nevada  :  On the Nevada side of Lake  
          Tahoe, commercial crayfish harvesting is authorized.  Nevada had  
          a statewide ban on the take of crayfish for commercial purposes  
          until very recently.  In 2011, the Nevada Board of Wildlife  








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          Commissioners amended its regulations to permit commercial take  
          of crayfish from Lake Tahoe for an annual permit fee of $500,  
          provided that the Nevada Department of Wildlife approves the  
          time, place, and manner of the operation and determines that the  
          operation "is not deleterious to fish or other wildlife  
          indigenous or planted or propagated in those waters at public  
          expense."  The Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners amended  
          its regulations again in 2012 to explicitly allow the commercial  
          sale of crayfish from Lake Tahoe, both by a permit holder to a  
          food wholesaler or restaurant and by a food wholesaler to a  
          restaurant.  At least five businesses have received both  
          commercial crayfish permits from the Nevada Department of  
          Wildlife and commercial permits from the Tahoe Regional Planning  
          Agency (TRPA).  These businesses must also work with the U.S.  
          Army Corps of Engineers and the Nevada Division of State Lands  
          to obtain appropriate clearances.  At this time, one business,  
          the Tahoe Lobster Company, is harvesting crayfish from Lake  
          Tahoe.

           

          Related Legislation  :  This bill is substantially similar to AB  
          2504 (Beth Gaines) from 2012.  On April 24, 2012, the Committee  
          heard the introduced version of AB 2504, which at that time  
          merely proposed the repeal of Fish & Game Code 8940's ban on  
          sale or purchase of crayfish from Lake Tahoe or the Lake Tahoe  
          Basin.  The Committee voted 13-0 to pass AB 2504 with amendments  
          regarding legislative intent and consistency with the Lake Tahoe  
          Region Aquatic Species Management Plan.  AB 165 includes  
          provisions nearly identical to the Committee amendments to AB  
          2504 from last year.



          Following the Committee's passage, AB 2504 was referred to the  
          Assembly Committee on Appropriations, which ultimately voted  
          17-0 to pass the bill with amendments authorizing the Department  
          of Fish and Game (now Department of Fish and Wildlife) to impose  
          a charge upon participants to recoup the "reasonable costs of  
          implementing and enforcing the commercial crayfish fishery."  At  
          the author's request, AB 2504 was ordered to the inactive file  
          and, consequently, was not taken up for a vote on the Assembly  
          floor.

           








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          Author's Statement  :  The author states that this bill will help  
          control Lake Tahoe's invasive crayfish population.  The author  
          argues that reducing the number of crayfish in Lake Tahoe will  
          in turn help address the concerns over both lake clarity and  
          invasive species.  In addition to environmental benefits, the  
          author states that allowing the buying and selling of crayfish  
          from Lake Tahoe will help stimulate the state and local economy.  
           The author notes that, under current law, even California  
          restaurants near Lake Tahoe must import crayfish from out of the  
          region or out of the state.

           

          Support Arguments  :  TRPA, the bi-state planning and regulatory  
          agency with jurisdiction over the Lake Tahoe region, supports  
          lifting California's current statutory ban on commercial harvest  
          of crayfish.  TRPA states that commercial crayfish harvesting  
          from Lake Tahoe "may allow the control of this species by  
          engaging the private sector to accomplish what otherwise would  
          not be possible given the limited public funding" for  
          controlling invasive species.  TRPA also states that it will  
          "conduct an environmental analysis on the commercial boating  
          associated with each individual harvest operation" in order to  
          ensure that any resulting commercial operation is consistent  
          with its standards and ordinances.

           

          Other Issues for the Committee's Consideration  :  As noted in the  
          Committee analysis of last year's AB 2504, removal of crayfish  
          through commercial harvest may have both positive and negative  
          ecological impacts.  For these reasons, some fishery scientists  
          have urged that any prospective commercial fishery involve  
          careful planning and monitoring.  A noted crayfish scientist  
          raised several issues regarding the establishment of a  
          responsible commercial harvesting program for Lake Tahoe,  
          including avoidance of bycatch, avoidance of spreading signal  
          crayfish to other ecosystems, limiting the areas of harvest to  
          protect invertebrate habitat, maximizing cooperation among  
          agencies and scientists, inter-agency cooperation, and tracking  
          and analyzing commercial harvest and ecosystem data.











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          This bill does not in itself authorize commercial crayfish  
          harvest in Lake Tahoe.  Nor does it require the Commission to  
          amend its regulations to allow such commercial crayfish  
          operations.  However, given this bill's intent to remove a  
          barrier on commercial crayfish harvest in Lake Tahoe and the  
          Lake Tahoe Basin, as well as the State of Nevada's recent  
          authorization of such operations, it may be appropriate to  
          consider the potential regulatory and administrative  
          implications of this bill.

          Without Fish and Game Code section 8940, the Commission would  
          still have to amend its regulations - including those barring  
          commercial crayfish harvest in any lake or reservoir and in  
          Placer and El Dorado Counties east of Highway 49 - before a  
          commercial crayfish harvest operation at Lake Tahoe would be  
          authorized.  As noted in the committee analyses of AB 2504, the  
          Commission's amendment of its regulations would be a  
          discretionary action potentially subject to the California  
          Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  Pursuant to CEQA, the  
          Commission may be required to conduct an initial study and to  
          prepare appropriate environmental documentation based upon the  
          potential environmental impact of the project.  Additionally,  
          the Department of Fish and Wildlife would likely have to devote  
          additional time and resources toward designing, implementing,  
          and enforcing any potential commercial harvest program in Lake  
          Tahoe.  Although the potential costs of a commercial crayfish  
          program on the California side of Lake Tahoe are unknown,  
          Nevada's commercial permit fee for crayfish in Lake Tahoe is  
          $500.  In contrast, the current commercial permit fee for  
          crayfish in California is $41.97.

           REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION  :   

           Support 
           
          Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
          Individual(s): 1

           Opposition 
           
          None on file.
           
          Analysis Prepared by  :    Steve Westhoff / W., P. & W. / (916)  
          319-2096 









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