In addition to the previously live-blogged discussion on how irresponsible pot grows wreck the streams, rivers and forests of our fair state (and especially our fair county), the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture 39th Annual Fisheries Forum was chock full of news about fish. Here’s an overview:

Our own Assemblymember Wes Chesbro, who chairs the committee, opened by noting how much good legislation has stemmed from these public discussions over the years. He also emphasized that this year’s forum marked a return to focusing on the interests of the hardworking fishing men and women, many of whom were familiar Humboldt County faces.

One of the most familiar, fisherman’s wife and former longtime Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Commissioner Ronnie Pellegrini delivered what may have been the forum’s most shocking news: accusations of malfeasance on the part of Crescent City fishermen. Pellegrini listed boats whose owners, she said, had falsely claimed damage from the tsunami or lied about their fishing history in order to illegally transfer their fishing vessel permits.

Overall, the panelists presented a fair amount of good humor and hope.  New Department of Fish & Game Director Chuck Bonham outlined the department’s mission and listed a series of notable success stories: market squid, crab, ocean salmon, lobster and San Francisco Bay herring recovery, completing the first-ever stock evaluation of California halibut and the implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act.

The department’s highest priorities revolve around continuing habitat rescue and restoration for salmon, Bonham said, invoking Barry Lopez’s quote, “Salmon give us a sense of place that is sorely needed in today’s world.”

Other items of import include creating a tribal liason position, restoring the Klamath, Scott and Shasta rivers, improving relationships with the various state water boards, getting “heavily involved”  in the Delta and focusing on core values of science, trust, communication and relationship-building. Bonham praised his staff’s passion, acknowledged that lean times mean doing more work with less funding, but remained optimistic going into the future.

Senator Doug LaMalfa (R – Richdale) commented to Bonham about how “OR7 is wreaking havoc on coho” – apparently his ranching constituents are not so excited about a wild wolf in California – and asked the director to “slow it down” in the Del Norte area. “Everyone wants to tear down dams,” he said. “But they’re very useful… you can move in that direction without getting radical.”

Sonke Mastrup, excutive director of the Fish & Game Commission, relayed the commission’s determination to complete MLPA implementation on the North Coast and focus on sustainable management of fisheries with minimized ecological impacts. Mastrup acknowledged the challenges faced by the commission, which includes being beholden to an increasingly divisive constituency which means the commission is increasingly being asked to resolve conflict.

The North Coast Marine Protected Areas are currently expected to be adopted at a special FGC meeting in June.

Humboldt’s Vivian Helliwell, representing the California Advisory Committee on Salmon and Steelhead Trout, said the committee is afraid that hypothetical and erroneous assumptions in the National Marine Fisheries Service’s salmon recovery plan will override local knowledge and asked legislators to not finalize that plan until the committee’s concerns are resolved.

Also close to home, the Dungeness Task Force members spoke highly a bill limiting crab traps. The bill, authored by Senator Noreen Evans, passed and was signed into law last year. California’s crab fishermen want it implemented as soon as possible to more quickly protect the fishery.

Cal Poly biology professor Dean Wendt discussed the success of collaborative fisheries projects – a model expected to come into play locally in the near future. Takeaway: It’s good for folks to work together.

Representing the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, North Coast resident Dave Bitts continued that theme, saying  it’s time for a cooperative approach in the water war between coastal fishermen and Scott Valley landowners.

Earth Law Center Executive Director Linda Sheehan said salmon restoration goals are nowhere near achieved. “We need to go further,” she said, in enforcing the laws we have – the environment cannot be an afterthought. Sheehan spoke about legally establishing that ecosystems have inalienable rights as much as humans do, citing precedent legislation in Ecuador.

Ken Beer (The Fishery), Mark Drawbridge (Hubbs SeaWorld) and Don Kent (Hubbs SeaWorld) all advocated strongly for increased fish farming, the latter two especially promoting the concept of open ocean farms for finfish – they’re already doing it in Mexico, the thinking goes, so we should do it, too.