Last week, the California Fish and Game Commission moved to list white sturgeon under the Golden State’s Endangered Species Act. The action kicks off a review process by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) that’s expected to take at least a year to complete. In the meantime, once the state’s Office of Administrative Law publishes the action, white sturgeon will be provisionally protected under the act, prompting a temporary immediate closure of all recreational fishing for the species.

Unlike green sturgeon, white sturgeon are not listed under the National Endangered Species Act. Less than a year ago, California had one of the most liberal regulations for white sturgeon—an anadromous fish that can grow to 20 feet long and over 1,000 pounds—in the country, allowing anglers to harvest three fish per year between 40 and 60 inches. In November 2023, the CDFW implemented strict regulations, reducing the yearly harvest limit to one fish between 42 and 48 inches per angler. The recent action stands to restrict the fishery even further or close it for good.

The decision to consider listing the species was prompted by a petition filed by environmental groups such as The San Francisco Bay Keeper and Restore the Delta. The organizations cited decreased sturgeon recruitment, harmful water diversions, algal blooms, loss of habitat, and overfishing as causes for listing the species as “Threatened.”

The move was fought by some local anglers, including the Nor-Cal Guides & Sportsmens Association. In a June 4, 2024 letter, this local industry group argued that “recreational angling is not the cause of concern to the health of this fishery. Instead, this fishery is suffering from the mismanagement of our precious and limited water supplies, allocations of which have resulted in less than ideal breeding and spawning habitat and harmful algal blooms which have indiscriminately killed thousands of fish, sturgeon among them.”

The organization also says there is insufficient evidence for a severe population decline in the white sturgeon population to warrant a listing—and warns of the negative impacts of closing the fishery on the local fishing community, which is already reeling from two consecutive years of a full salmon season closure.

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While the California Fish and Game Commission’s move will soon enact a full closure of white sturgeon fishing pending the results of the review, it’s possible they will grant an exemption, perhaps allowing catch-and-release fishing for the species.