In a bid to safeguard dwindling white sturgeon populations and address the impact of a harmful algal bloom (HAB), emergency regulations reducing the harvest of white sturgeon in California waters have come into effect. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) made this announcement following the approval of these measures by the Office of Administrative Law.
Under the new regulations, several key changes have been implemented. Fishermen are now limited to keeping one white sturgeon per year. The slot limit, the size range within which sturgeon can be retained, has been adjusted to 42-48 inches. Vessels are restricted to carrying a maximum of two white sturgeon per day, and seasonal closures have been introduced in vital sturgeon spawning areas.
The California Fish and Game Commission, in collaboration with the CDFW and angling groups, initiated these regulations due to prolonged declines in adult white sturgeon populations and the adverse effects of the 2022 HAB.
California is home to two sturgeon species: green sturgeon, listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act, and white sturgeon, designated as a Species of Special Concern in the state. White sturgeon, considered one of the oldest fish species, can live up to 100 years and begin spawning at around 14 to 19 years old. It’s estimated that white sturgeon in the Central Valley only have successful spawning events every six to seven years. The abundance of white sturgeon has significantly dropped from around 200,000 harvestable fish in 1997 to approximately 33,000 (recent five-year average). In the past, sturgeon fisheries in California have been closed multiple times due to overharvest.
The HAB that occurred in the San Francisco and San Pablo bays during the summer of 2022 led to the death of thousands of fish, including at least 864 sturgeon. Many experts believe the actual sturgeon mortality during the event was much higher.
To protect white sturgeon populations, the harvest has been limited to one white sturgeon per person for the years 2023 and 2024. Catch and release fishing for white sturgeon will still be permitted with a valid sturgeon report card, except during specified closures. The slot limit has been revised to 42-48 inches, and a two-fish per vessel per day limit has been imposed. Additionally, there will be a seasonal closure for white sturgeon fishing upstream of the Highway 50 bridge on the Sacramento River and the Interstate 5 bridge on the San Joaquin River from January 1 to May 31, 2024, with the area reopening to catch and release fishing on June 1, 2024, after the spawning season.
Sturgeon Report Cards purchased in 2023 will remain valid for the rest of the year, and all reporting, tag, and report card requirements will remain in effect. However, only one sturgeon harvest tag will be valid, and any remaining sturgeon harvest tags beyond one will be invalid for the rest of 2023. Anglers who 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.