The California Fish and Game Commission was the first wildlife conservation agency in the United States, predating even the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries.
In 1870 the Board of Fish Commissioners, the forerunner of the modern day Fish and Game Commission, was established to provide for the restoration and preservation of fish in California waters.
In 1909 the Board of Fish Commissioners' name was changed to the Fish and Game Commission, which reflected the growing importance of game conservation. The complex fish and game regulations and administration of today date from these years when the Commission was given more authority to undertake new responsibilities in the areas of conservation.
In 1927 the administrative functions of the original Commission were assumed by the newly established Division of Fish and Game, set up within the Department of Natural Resources. In 1927 the first deer tag ($1.00) was issued.
In 1937 the Fish and Game Commission was increased from three to its current five members, and in 1940 a constitutional amendment provided for six-year staggered terms with Commissioners appointed by the Governor subject to confirmation by the Senate according to Government Code subsection 1774(c).
In 1945 the Fish and Game Commission received the responsibility for promulgating regulations to manage sport fishing and hunting. This act was done by the Legislature, through a constitutional amendment.
Finally, in 2012, the Governor approved a bill that changed the name of the Department of Fish and Game to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The name change did not affect the Commission and so its name remains unchanged.
There is often confusion about the distinction between the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Fish and Game Commission.
In the most basic terms, the Department of Fish and Wildlife is charged with implementing and enforcing the regulations set by the Fish and Game Commission, as well as providing biological data and expertise to inform the Commission’s decision making process.
Fish and Game Code
The Legislature has delegated to the Fish and Game Commission a variety of powers, some general in nature and some very specific. These powers are delegated within California Statutes that comprise the Fish and Game Code. Hard copies are printed annually after the conclusion of the Legislative Session and the current electronic version is found at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes.xhtml.
Title 14. Natural Resources, California Code of Regulations
The Fish and Game Commission's regulations are included within Title 14 Natural Resources within the California Code of Regulations. These regulations are available in printed format, with quarterly updates. Additionally, the regulations can be found on the Office of Administrative Law’s site, oal.ca.gov.
The Fish and Game Commission has a wide range of responsibilities that continually expands and includes:
- Formulation of general policies for the conduct of the Department of Fish and Wildlife
- Seasons, bag limits and methods of take for game animals, sport fishing and some commercial fishing
- Controlling non-native species importation, possession, sale
- Establishing protected lands/waters (marine protected areas, wildlife areas and ecological reserves.)
- Regulating uses of protected areas
- Listing and delisting of threatened/endangered species under California Endangered Species Act
- Accepting mitigation lands on behalf of the State
- Leasing State water-bottom for shellfish cultivation
- Leasing kelp beds for harvest
- Authorizing terms and conditions for Private Lands Management Program
- Assuming a quasi-judicial role in considering appeal hearings for revocation or suspension of licenses and permits
- Prescribing terms and conditions for issuance, suspension, revocation of licenses/permits issued by the Department, including:
- most commercial/recreational fishing
- hunting/fishing guides
- raptor capture
- game bird club
- fur agent/dealer
- restricted species
- aquaculture registration
- game breeders
- fallow deer farming
- nuisance bird abatement
- domesticated migratory game bird shooting area
- native reptile propagation
- wild animal care
- wild animal exhibitor
- Association of Zoos and Aquaria detrimental species
California Administrative Procedure Act
The Fish and Game Commission’s regulatory process is governed by the California Administrative Procedure Act (APA). APA is a series of acts of the California Legislature, first enacted June 15, 1945. Chapter 3.5 of the APA requires requires California State agencies to adopt regulations in accordance with its provisions.
The APA allows the public to participate in the adoption of State regulations in order to ensure that the regulations are clear, necessary, and legally valid. The APA provides that any interested person may petition a State agency to change regulation. These changes include the adoption of a new regulation or the amendment or repeal of an existing one.
The Fish and Game Commission conducts its business at twelve meetings a year, alternating decision meetings with its Marine Resources Committee and Wildlife Resources Committee meetings. These meetings span from one to two days are strategically located throughout the State to encourage public outreach and participation. The annual meeting schedule must be announced sixty days prior to the first meeting of the calendar year, though it remains subject to change.
The Commission must annually elect one of its members as President and one as Vice President.
The powers of the President include chairing the public meetings, signing correspondence that results from a majority Commission action, and serving as a member of the Wildlife Conservation Board (Section1320, Fish and Game Code). The President may also be a member ex officio of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission created by the Migratory Bird Act of Congress in 1929 (Section 357, Fish and Game Code).
Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act
The Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act of 1967 implements a provision of the California Constitution which declares that 'the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny', and explicitly mandates open meetings for California State agencies, boards, and commissions. The Act facilitates accountability and transparency of government activities and protects the rights of citizens to participate in State government deliberations.
Except as otherwise provided, the Commission shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the Commission on each agenda item before or during the Commission's discussion or consideration of an item. However, the Act allows a great many exceptions to this provision. Select provisions include:
- Notice of State body meetings shall be provided at least 10 days in advance
- Notices shall include a specific agenda for meetings, including the items of business to be transacted or discussed, and no item shall be added to the agenda subsequent to the notice
- Agendas of public meetings and other writings, when distributed to the members of a State body for discussion or consideration at a public meeting of such body, are public records under the California Public Records Act
- State bodies may, however, take action on non-agendized items of business under certain circumstances, most notably upon a determination by a majority vote of the State body that an emergency situation exists
- Any person attending an open and public meeting of a State body shall have the right to record and broadcast (audio and/or video) the proceedings.
- Each member of the State body shall be provided a copy of the Act upon his or her appointment to membership or assumption of office
- No State agency shall conduct any meeting or function in any facility prohibiting admittance to any person on the basis of race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex
Currently the Commission has three committees: the Marine Resources Committee (MRC), Wildlife Resources Committee (WRC), and Tribal Committee (TC), which were created in statute (Sections 105, 106, and 106.5 of the Fish and Game Code). Each is chaired or co-chaired by no more than two Commissioners. These assignments are generally made annually by a majority vote of the Commission at the time of election of the President.
The goal of these committees is to allow presentations and discussions on regulatory proposals that allow greater time and detail than what is possible at full Commission meetings. The committee meetings are less formal in nature and provide for additional access to the Commission. Additionally, the committees follow the requirements of Bagley-Keene.
It is important to note that the committee chairs cannot take action independent of the full Commission. Instead, the chairs make recommendations to the full Commission at regularly scheduled meetings.
When the public requests for the Commission to take position on proposed legislation, the Commission’s “Legislation” policy states that the position must first be approved by the respective committee and then presented to the full Commission at a public meeting for final consideration.
Due to the increasing authority of the Commission and the broad diversity of our State, the Commission often forms ad hoc committees to temporarily deal with short term issues that may arise. Examples include State issued water-bottom lease revisions for aquaculture and budget issues.
Code of Conduct
The Commission adopted a “Code of Conduct” Policy in March 2013 which states: It is the policy of the Fish and Game Commission that:
- A commissioner shall faithfully discharge the duties, responsibilities, and quasi-judicial actions of the commission.
- A commissioner shall conduct his or her affairs in the public’s best interest, following principles of fundamental fairness and due process of law.
- A commissioner shall conduct his or her affairs in an open, objective, and impartial manner, free of undue influence and the abuse of power and authority.
- A commissioner understands that California’s wildlife and natural resources programs require public awareness, understanding, and support of, and participation and confidence in, the commission and its practices and procedures.
- A commissioner shall preserve the public’s welfare and the integrity of the commission, and act to maintain the public’s trust in the commission and the implementation of its regulations and policies.
- A commissioner shall not conduct himself or herself in a manner that reflects discredit upon state laws or policies, regulations, and principles of the commission.
- A commissioner shall not make, participate in making, or in any other way attempt to use his or her official position to influence a commission decision in which the member has a financial interest.