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CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

Captain Merit McCrea is our Saltwater Editor. He covers the Southern California beat for Western Outdoor News.McCrea has been an active USCG licensed captain since 1978. For more than two decades he owned and operated partyboats. He served as a Sportfishing Association of California Board Member and is well-connected within the industry.


In 2000 he transitioned into academia, earned several academic honors and now concurrently works as a research biologist with UCSB’s Marine Science Institute with the Milton Love Lab. His skills include: ecology, fisheries, marine management, technical mapping (GIS), statistical analysis, oceanographic processes, ichthyology, technical writing, modern technological application, data management, small business management, experimental design, mathematical modeling, research diving and journalism.


A resident of Santa Barbara, McCrea is also a skilled boat operator including trailer boats, larger single screw, twin screw and water-jet driven vessels. He can find fish, run a rod and reel and is the current IGFA all-tackle world record holder for catch and release calico bass. Recreationally he has a passion for fishing and hunting.


It is his desire as your Saltwater Editor to assure that we support our advertisers that support us. He can be reached by voice or text at (805) 687-3474 or via email at merit@wonews.com


Tagging Giants
This past Saturday, the Balboa Yacht Club hosted the CCA-Cal Orange County Chapter for an evening with Dr. Barbara Block, perhaps the world’s leading authority on bluefin tuna, along with Paul Fruchbom of Stanford’s Hop­kins Marine Station, Monterey Bay. Block was there to present her lab’s latest findings with respect to Pacific bluefin tuna and her ongoing projects.

drbarbarablock
DR. BARBARA BLOCK, preeminent bluefin tuna expert, before the packed room at the Balboa Yacht Club bluefin seminar put on by the CCA-Cal Orange County Chapter this past Thursday.


The house was packed as some 140 attendees joined for an information-filled evening all about one of our favorite subjects, giant tuna. The event drew many of the best known in SoCal recreational fishing. CCA National Director of State Development Robert Taylor came all the way from Houston, Texas.


The evening started with a few words from CCA-Cal ED Wayne Kotow and CCA-Cal State Board and Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute Chair Bill Shedd, President of AFTCO.


After an awesome buffet, the audience settled in for a hearty helping of info on bluefin migration, biology, life history, international fisheries and a side of comparative Atlantic bluefin data.


Block began her work on the big tunas, targeting the Atlantic sub-species. It was initially thought, rather conveniently, to be of two major stocks, a Western Atlantic and Eastern Atlantic population.


This was convenient because it meant the U.S. and European nations weren’t in competition, as each had their own fish. The Atlantic info is a great place to start because research is at least 10 years ahead of work on our North Pacific subspecies, amply illustrating the multi-national dynamic at play here too.


Currently there are thought to be 5 sub-stocks of the Atlantic tunas — like tribes or races or breeds — each with their own physical traits, each using the environment in different ways. Some parts of these sub-stock’s home ranges overlap while others don’t.


One group forages off the middle of our Atlantic seaboard, migrating east to forage off the European Coast and moving into the Mediterranean Sea to spawn. Another stock forages along the northern fringes of our Atlantic seaboard, extending into Canadian waters.


It’s this stock that spawns in the Gulf of Mexico and grows to be the largest of all — sometimes attaining weights of 1,500 pounds or more. While it’s simplest to think of these groups as always keeping to their own kind, there’s likely some level of intermixing like West Side Story, no matter how much disdain exists between different stocks.


For Atlantic bluefin fisheries, these findings meant all nations had to own up to the fact the fish they were seeing and hammering — whether off the Carolinas, or Great Brittan or Spain or Italy — were actually the same fish. No one could claim they had their own barrel of fish after Block’s and other’s tagging work amply illustrated they were all dipping from the same barrel.


At the same time, Nova Scotia’s giants were indeed a different breed. But Gulf of Mexico harvesters shared with Nova Scotia.


Here in the Pacific, we just don’t fully know yet how the Pacific bluefin gangs work out — Jets vs. Sharks, Crips and Bloods. We kind of know where bluefin are, and at least a couple of places where they spawn.


Just like all bluefin — warm blooded to some degree, the bigger ones prefer cooler waters, because they can, while smaller ones are somewhat restricted to areas where they can retreat to warmer surface waters as they need to.


Block had lots of slides showing both bluefin tagging and the results of tag data. They included day-by-day plots of bluefin positions on a map of the Pacific. There were also depth-by-time plots showing when fish did most of their deep diving.


Block pointed out that the fish we’re catching range from the tip of Baja, north to Washington seasonally, and offshore out to 400 miles, following food and water temperature. We’re seeing fish as old as 8 years, she believes. So far, Block’s hypothesis is that this tribe matures much later than the 3 to 5 years as previously thought.


She’s holding with the idea that the older fish run west to spawn in the Orient and stay — actually, mostly getting caught soon after.


So how does her lab get these data? There are two principal types of tags the lab has developed. One is an archival tag, which records things like light levels, time, temperature and pressure. The tag can keep recording until its battery runs out or memory is full, usually several years.


But that kind of tag is implanted internally and has a small external light sensor. The fish has to be caught, the tag noticed by someone and turned in to be read, with data downloaded and such.


In the Atlantic, Block’s people noticed there were certain dark areas they never got a tag returned from, despite there being a robust local bluefin fishery.


A second type of tag was developed — a “popup” archival tag, one which is anchored to the fish, but self releases after a set number of weeks or months, floats to the surface and uploads all its data via satellite.


A side note here: radio waves don’t go through water well at all, maybe just an inch or two, but that’s what carries data through air and space best for the least power. So far there’s no way to get real-time data from tuna.


Sometimes a combination of acoustic signals through water to a buoy and a satellite uplink from the buoy is used. However, the through water link is at max, a half kilometer. So, a network of buoys located no more than a kilometer apart would be required for real-time fish data.


This is great for seeing your favorite white shark show up at your favorite beach, yet not so practical for tracking a tuna swimming across the Pacific.


With these pop-up tags, in the Atlantic it was soon discovered that the dark areas were places where local fishermen most likely ****-canned any tags they found in fish they caught, rather than turning them in for the reward.


It’s been mostly archival tags deployed so far here in the Pacific, many of them, from the deck of the Shogun. Despite getting a scary-large fraction of a total of over 800 archival tags back — almost half, few have shown fish in the southernmost of the two known spawning areas — off Taiwan.


Block’s latest thrust is to include more satellite pop-up tags in the tagging mix, as was done in the Atlantic. But the big challenge is their cost at roughly $6,000 a copy.


This means not only coming up with the tags, but having to be highly selective as to the fish they get put on. The fish would have to be a big one, big enough to haul the tag around with little extra effort. It would have to have been landed fairly quickly, not battled to exhaustion, yet controllable on deck. The live landing, surgery and data taking would have to go off flawlessly.


As you might guess, it’s going to take a lot of financing and fishing. If you’re interested in further info on Block’s Tag-A-Giant program, there are opportunities to participate, even fish with her crew for those with plenty of experience in catching big bluefin. https://tagagiant.org/


Block wrapped up her pre­sentation with the preliminary results of one of her grad-student’s work, analyzing global open ocean industrial fishing fleet locations. Not surprisingly, the 200-mile radius off the U.S. was relatively fleet free. That’s our claimed EEZ or exclusive economic zone, which no other nation has access to.


Foreign fleets fishing here need permits (only a few Canadian albacore boats) or they might “go dark” on their AIS feed (Automated Identi­fication Service) and poach our waters.


Mapping the Pacific fishing fleets showed high concentrations of long-line and other fishing boats filling the open ocean outside our waters. No matter how hard we hold back our own fishermen and women in the name of conservation, when it comes to offshore critters, the real issue today is less how much fish we catch, but how much foreign-caught fish we import.


Go to www.marinetraffic.com to see the global fishing fleet in real-time. Fishing boats are orange. Check out the Far East and equatorial waters especially.


There are trans-national fisheries management organizations. U.S. fisheries managers work hard within them to compel sustainable harvest levels internationally. Yet, one of the biggest problems remains industrial level Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated or “IUU” fishing, as it’s called.


Into the weeds with science: The way daily fish location is calculated from daylight data is by measuring day length and timing.


By knowing dawn and dusk one can calculate midday — local noon. By knowing the global z time/GMT at local noon, one derives how far east or west the fish was (longitude), very accurately.


By knowing the day of the year and the day length, one can tell how far north or south the fish was (latitude). So you can see the kinds of errors that might be involved (overcast in the morning, etc).


Some error sources can be mitigated in modeling. For example, data shows depth, so light attenuation due to depth can be dealt with. Correlating satellite-observed SST patterns at the time with the SST recorded by the tag further refines latitude and provides a reasonable fix within 1 degree of the real location.


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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California party boat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com. 


•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


The inside story: two tackle manufacturers
This past week I took the opportunity to stop by two of our many tackle manufacturer's offices, United Composites in Huntington Beach and Daiwa US in Cypress. It was an interesting dichotomy of scale, UC on the small-scale, custom production end, and Daiwa on the big multi-national end of the spectrum. Both make great products and provide personalized service. I hope to get around to several more shops as we spin through the spring season.


oneofthree4
ONE OF THREE walls of rods and reels at Daiwa US Headquarters and Service Center in Cypress. On the left you see the fighting/testing chair, then pegboard displays of terminal tackle and line offerings, then begins about a third of a wrap-around display of rods and reels offered here in the USA. A bent-butt, unlimited big game outfit leans juxtaposed to some of their lightest bass and freshwater gear.


UC


Randy Penny is the man at United Composites. As you walk in the front door of the shop, first is his office, then right behind that, production — right there. First were walls of irons. You see, in addition to blank and rod building, Penny produces PEP jigs and Killer Jigs and supports the S.I.G. website, surfaceiron.com. So you can kind of see the direction of drift. SoCal long rods and surface iron are key aspects here at UC.


Building a full range of custom quality offerings, there is definitely extra attention to those sticks and styles indigenous to SoCal salt fisheries, rail rods, plastics and iron. He has lots of graphite composite variety in the longer selection of single piece sticks, out to 10 feet.


Single-piece sticks past the 9-foot mark really are a localized phenomenon, a niche market unique to our area. Transporting anything longer to and from fishing sites requires such dedication, in almost all cases longer sticks are made multi-piece.


As one steps past the irons, there are racks of mandrills, upon which his small staff hand lays graphite "flags," custom building each blank by hand on two tables. An aspect of these rods is their use of an interior helical backbone, which adds strength and supports higher power builds with less weight gain.


Over this the flag's fibers are all laid longitudinal for primary power. Much that goes into these sticks is part of their proprietary process, one following an evolution from Graphite USA's original designs.


Blanks go from the cutting and rolling tables, onto racks destined for the oven, where final lamination takes place. Two things Penny noted were his use of a weighted rack that holds the blanks and mandrills perfectly vertical, and their practice of ultra-cleaning mandrills so blanks can be allowed to fully cool on the mandrill before removal, preventing blanks from taking on a set of any sort.


While initially offered exclusively as blanks for custom wrappers to finish, now about 60 percent of the sticks produced hit the market fully finished. It's not industrial scale production on factory complete sticks. UC has a pair of wrappers who hand wrap off-site, and twice each week bring in wrapped rods for decals and coating.


Daiwa Headquarters


newtanacom500
THE NEW TANACOM 500 with a quarter for scale. Daiwa's palmable small electric reel is a brand new offering with SoCal's newly accessible deeper water bottom fish and braided line in mind. It fishes like a low-pro, until you plug it in.


Just a few miles away I was met at Daiwa Fishing Tackle's US headquarters and service center by Toru Takahashi, Curt Arakawa and Mark Mills. Their show room is impressive, walls of rods, examples of each they offer. Displayed below them the reels that go with them.


This big corporation has proved impressively responsive at the local level, with uniquely SoCal product lines as bites, angling opportunities and methods change and tackle technology evolves. At this point they were already gearing up for the advance to fishing deeper waters, with a "palmable" small electric reel.


Looking a bit like a low-pro on steroids, the TANACOM 500 – a fully variable speed e-reel with up to 33 pounds of drag, counts line in and out and can be left on auto to stop winding as terminal tackle hits the surface. As a conventional reel it can easily be used unplugged just as one would any other reel.


Plugging in to any 12v power source leaves you free to stuff it in a rod holder to attend to other matters as it does the work of winding in from the depths. It's this reel's larger predecessors like the TANACOM 750 and 1000 that transformed kite fishing, serving as the ultimate in kite handling reels.


Already, those deep into the sanddab fishery have put e-reels into service with great effect. Today's smaller, lighter and more powerful rechargeable batteries have changed the e-reel game dramatically too. What used to take a second trip to haul around, can now fit in a coat pocket as an afterthought.


When I saw this reel and learned of it's capabilities, it was its potential utility in descending and releasing deep water fish that came to mind. Set it and forget it.


Another interest I had was in their Lexa/Proteus combos for surface iron fishing. I'd test casted a setup at the Long Beach Fred Hall Show casting pond. It's casting ability with straight braid and long effortless launches with a stick under 9 feet in length was truly impressive.


That 9-foot mark is the line between easily transportable, shippable and fly-able. As you pass it, a rod's "care and feeding" requirements increase exponentially. Stay under it, and it the quiver fits in almost any vehicle, ships and checks in at the airport.


Their Proteus series' guides all sport line-loop-shedding streamlined profiles. Nothing's quite so frustrating as spooning a deep jig hard or trying to shake free of a hang-up, only to have it tie a knot ’round the rod tip – especially if you get bit right at that moment and bust off.


A unique aspect of Daiwa's low-pro reels is their clutch system. It allows the angler to simply flip the free-spool bar up with your thumb to engage it. When fishing in free-spool, whether with live bait or on the sink, there's no need to grapple for the handle before setting the hook.


Also new on the market is their J-Braid Grand, a tightly woven 8 carrier braid designed to be smooth, quiet and abrasion resistant. Out of the box it's smooth and handles stiffer than the average braid, verging on monofilament like characteristics – very promising for its potential castability – can't wait to give it a test toss.


They have a new popper series, the MEBACHI (big eye) POPPER in 8 patterns. The Red-Head and Bone are bound to be hot producers. Also new is their DR.MINNOW jerk-bait series.


Daiwa's latest local offerings include the Saltist Power Gear series, their already popular WINN wrap which enables one to trade out rodbutt wrap and customize factory sticks and reels. There are several new TATULA reels and C-80 series reels.


Arakawa said these will all be on display at the coming Fred Hall shows.


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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.


•   •   •  •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


The cod map
This time round, it’s all about the map. There are big changes in the area we’ll have access to with the opening of the boat based groundfish season, March 1. For those of you who said, “Once we lose it, we’ll never get it back,” you were wrong. While this may be the case for our MPAs, the much larger areas of the RCA (the depth limit) and CCA (Cortes, Tanner, SBI, Nic) it is definitely not true. The principal difference is California’s MPAs are preservation based, while NOAA Fisheries’ CCA and RCA are fisheries conservation based.

From Point Conception, south, we’ll be able to fish out to the PFMC’s point to point “75-fathom” line. The areas between that line and the “60-fathom” line haven’t been tapped for nearly 20 years now.


In the CCA or Cowcod Conservation Area, we were previously restricted to bottom fish in waters of just 120 feet and less. Now we’ll be able to tap areas inside the new PFMC “40-fathom” point-to-point lines.


mapoutside
THE MAP — Outside of the Cowcod Conservation Area (CCA) the green line is the PFMC 75-fathom point-to-point line — defining the new recreational RCA boundary, while the nearby yellow line is the 60-fathom line, where it was last season. The CCA is the big blue boxy boundary dead center. The new “40-fathom” lines (green) surround the included islands and the tops of the Tanner and Cortes banks. MPAs, international and management region boundaries also show. This is a kmz file that will load on your mobile device in Google Earth and other apps like MAPinr. This enables your phone or tablet as a hand-held plotter with your location and the new boundaries shown overlain on Google Earth. If you’d like a copy, e-mail merit@wonews.com. MAP COMPILED BY MERIT MCCREA


The game fish opportunities at Santa Barbara Island (SBI) were phenomenal this past season, but the word was kept on the down low, and party boats carrying boatloads of anglers eager to spread the word didn’t see it. This was due, in a large part, to the fickle nature of game fish bites. Previously the minimal area inside 20 fathoms at SBI really restricted back-up plan options.


This made it a risky choice for any open-party adventure. Only a few private boaters and small boat charters sworn to secrecy, willing to roll the dice on game fish or nothing saw those big yellows and acres of boiling lock-jaw tuna.


But the new access comes with a caveat. Access is geographically complex. You can’t just go out and stay shallower than the nominative depth and be legal. YOU MUST KNOW THE LOCATION OF THE LINE.


Plus, fishing deep means being ready with the recompression devices, and it may take some heavy weights too. I’ll have more on this in a later issue.


For now, you can access the points at the Sportfishing Asso­ciation of California website and get busy programming them into your plotter. Here’s the link: www.californiasportfishing.org/rca-waypoints .


Key northern areas where the new access will count include the West Bank at San Miguel Island, the deeper edge south of Santa Rosa Island, a local SB Channel reef 15 miles equidistant from Santa Barbara, Ventura and Channel Islands harbors, off Rincon.


To the south the local San Pedro, Long Beach and Newport boats will likely score big out by the rigs, near Eureka. There will be a sliver of newly tappable turf off Box Canyon and along the shelf break areas all along the drop off to the border.


Out in the CCA, of course the change will be MAJOR — all around SBI and San Nicolas Island, and both the Tanner and Cortes.


However, there are key areas where trouble awaits the sloppy skipper. These include the Finger or 12-Mile Reef in the Santa Barbara Channel — shallower than 450 feet/75 fathoms, but isolated and not included. Other similar areas shallower than the depth but not included inside the lines are the Santa Rosa Flats, the Osborn Bank, the 60-Mile Bank, Hidden Reef Pinnacle, and a substantial area along the north edge of the Tanner Bank.


The point is, you’ll want to plot the lines and not assume simply staying shallower than their nominative depth will keep you in the clear. In fact, you’ll also find a bit of space deeper than the depth, but inside the line and legal to fish, especially at the outer banks.


* * *


Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California party boat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.


•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


What just happened and what's next? 2018 and 2019
Let's see, it was mostly sculpin and bass, but some seabass at Catalina and a few holdover mossbacks and some huge bluefin for the Pacific Queen including a 152 pounder for Josh Anguillano of Carpenteria in January.

Then in February, we saw mostly bugs at Catalina, winter bass too, halibut and some huge surf perch. The Excel was on the road home and encountered biting bluefin, got 22 fish in the 40-pound class and angler Bob Leist bested a 170-pound fish.


While the bite at Colonet was straight rockfish, the Mustang pulled limits of yellows off kelps.


March saw a barn burner rockfish opener up and down the coast, while the first full-day yo-yo yellows greeted grateful anglers aboard the San Diego, not big fish, but yo-yo forks nonetheless. More offshore action continued for the few boats out looking, yellows and even a few bluefin. Then late in March, the offshore action dried up.


Then in April the Coronado Islands bite got with the program, big fish, fast action. It was game on. Plus the New Lo-An connected with limits of bluefin tuna. Halibut tournies wrapped up and the whole coast continued to whang away on lots of rockfish.


A few more of the San Diego fleet were out on the water looking for kelps, killing yellows and connecting with a few more bluefin along the way. There some big ones hooked and a few triple digit models landed too.


Capt. Tucker McCoombs — Outrider — belted limits of Channel Islands seabass on dropper looped dead squids.


It was May when the bluefin deal really got going, and the big ones were on the Flat-Fall, weighing in the 170- to 190-pound range. As we saw, by the fall, any fish under 100 was ho-hum. No one even raised an eyebrow at fish under the 200-pound cow class. While May fish were in Mexican waters still, by the following month it was all predominantly in U.S. waters for the bigger models, with the fish setting up camp just west of San Clemente Island.


Through the summer months, we saw them cycle far north, up the back side of Catalina Island. When the fish showed south of Santa Cruz Island, it seemed no one bothered to try for them there even as the opportunities to the south drew the fleet. If there were northern sector successes, few were talking.


Through June the bluefin areas included inshore waters, school sized yellowfin showed in limit-style numbers to the south. Catalina Island and Channel Islands yellows and seabass got with the program.


Meanwhile the northern sector landings continued to sack rockfish and lings without slowing down.


The bite rocked and rolled on all fronts well into the late, late fall. Ultimately bonito invaded local waters in better numbers than we'd seen in years. There seemed to be more opportunities than anglers to target them. Yellowtail showed off the Santa Barbara Coast and local anglers hardly tried for them, being focused on the bottom fishing with it's ultra consistent big bag limits of tasty reds and such.


The ocean whitefish boom really came into its own too. The bonanza fueled bottom biter bags bigger than many could remember and anglers doubled up to 20-fish total limits on many outings.


When it came to water conditions, there was a brief moment where the local surface waters off San Diego hit an amazing 80 degrees. But for all that, it wasn't really what one would call El Niño conditions. It's just that 70-degree plus SSTs have become the new SoCal normal.


With some oceanographers seeing warm west Pacific equatorial waters migrating back eastward this winter, there's a good chance the Bight area will stay unseasonably warm.


In this last week we saw some very strong northwest winds blow. These events are revealing for folks like me who watch for their effects on the ocean for signs of things to come.


Despite the time of year, these winds were able to dredge the cold waters to the surface as far south as the L.A./L.B. area. This means the thermocline is likely not much deeper than 100 feet down in these areas — normal to shallow for this time of year and unlike a couple of seasons back.


It points to a 2019 season very similar 2018. While we came very close to seeing a 400-pound bluefin in 2018, it didn't actually happen. But what did, was a lot more 200-plus pounders than ever before.


I believe the trend will continue, even more big fish in the mix. But at the same time, I'm not expecting to hear of 500 pounders cavorting along. I think there will be more over 200 and 300 pounds, including some more very near or even in the 400-pound class. We saw a lot of 60- and 70-pound fish in 2018. These fish will return as tackle testing 120 pounders.


There were also good numbers of 1-year-old 20-pound fish in 2018. In 2019 these will come in as 40-pound fish.


I expect the northern Bight will again have a good showing of exotics — yellows, seabass, and more seabass than we saw last season. It seemed there were lots of little ones around in 2018.


Giant seabass and ocean whitefish will continue their upswing. With the new access to deeper waters there will some big winners. We'll hit those chilies hard fishing lighter gear than ever before. It will take less than a pound to pull double dropper fluoro gear on 50-pound braid into the depths.


The last time we had access to those depths the standard gear was 50- or 80-pound Dacron and 4-hook ganions with 2 pounds plus. It's gonna be good and it's gonna be big boc., chilies, monster reds, widows and banks too.


* * *


Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.


•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Let’s go deeper, skipper!
I heard it first this past June, when Capt. Louie Zimm texted a note to me and Capt. Ken Franke, President of the Sportfishing Association of California, with a photo of his hand-written notes, fresh from Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC). It read simply:

“75 fathom Rec.


Scorpion fish all year.


40 f line CCA Rec and Com


1 lingcod south of 40º 10’ "


However, this was just the first major step in the process. The advice of the Council still had to be reviewed and approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service. So we had to keep it on the DL. Of course, the rumors have been flying through the fleet for months now — PFMC meetings are public.


At the most recent PFMC meeting this past week, the word was the new regulations were well on their way to implementation and come March 1, next year, we will once again have access to rockfish and other “federally managed groundfish” out to the PFMC 75-fathom point-to-point line.


Plus, a new PFMC line, roughly along the 40-fathom isobath inside the Cow Cod Conservation Area (CCA — San Nicolas Island, Santa Barbara Island, Hidden Reef, Cortes and Tanner banks) is drafted and we will be able to fish and possess rockfish and such while fishing inside that line. This represents a vast increase in the accessible area of the CCA.


In my early 20s, looking like a high school kid, running the Condor to fish cods out west of San Miguel Island daily, I got lots of advice from the old ganion-plunging codsters. In particular, I frequently heard this one bit of advice — “Let’s go deeper, skipper!” Of course, from up in the bow, those slinging jigs and plastics pushed for the shallow water. But it was true. The bigger fish bit codster’s ganions better out deep.


It was monster reds, and bocaccio, chillies and yellowtail. Huge olives, too. Out there one left the smaller blues behind. Many rockfish species start their lives living shallow and as they grow and mature, work their way into deeper water.


This new access to the new 40 line in the CCA and 75-line elsewhere is a major development, all the way around.


In recent months we’ve had the opportunity to participate in hook and line collection of rockfish out past the current 60-fathom line. Several other fleet vessels have worked with research teams in the deeper waters of the CCA.


For fish like chili peppers, their adult range barely starts at 60 fathoms, and there are major reefs that now hold them by the thousands in 65 and 70 fathoms, many well within 1/2-day range.


Places like Santa Barbara Island will gain a major back-up plan, should the game fish bite prove picky. The change will make SBI a much more viable option for yellowtail and seabass. If cappy swings and misses on the big game, anglers can be confident of making a catch anyway.


How did we get this back?


Fisheries management coupled with new research results, worked. The first piece is simple. We gave the fish a break and populations recovered. The second piece required innovation, research and positive results.


On the science end the progress was two-fold. Firstly, a lot more work was done to more confidently assess the populations of certain overfished species. When you don’t know much, you have to be precautionary and assume the most conservative numbers. Scien­tists learned more, discovered faster recovery rates and gained greater confidence in their numbers.


The second piece happened very close to home and has to do with developing and proving ways to successfully release rockfish — rather than floating them off into never, never land.


It was during the Channel Islands MPA process in 1998 when I first noted to Bob Fletcher, then SAC President, Patty Wolf — DFG, and several others, the assumption that a caught rockfish was a dead rockfish might be wrong, and we could release them with an inverted, old-school, wire milk crate by merely sinking them back to depth — recompressing them.


Previously, scientists tagging rockfish had been successfully “venting floaters” using hypodermic needles, out to 30 fathoms or so. But we’d had problems with some species, like vermillion. Their insides trapped the air in many small chambers.


Then Dr. Chris Lowe at CSULB had been able to tag and release a few rockfish from as deep as 740 feet out at platform Gail, in the middle of the Santa Barbara Channel. His acoustic “pinger” tags showed these fish had almost all survived. Yet they hadn’t been able to catch and tag very many in that first season.


The following season I was recruited to assist in this effort. We tagged a bunch. We eventually started to experiment, releasing fish too small to tag, with the basket — as well as a few with tags too. It worked! Two of his grad-students began projects to quantify how well simple recompression worked.

Independently, at least one other lab up north tested rockfish barotrauma recovery with recompression in tanks. Results were positive.


Now with 18 years of conservation, improved data on stock levels and a proven way to release rockfish from deep water, we’ve been given the go-ahead to try fishing ever deeper depths. In SoCal, the huge CCA backs up conservation measures elsewhere in the Bight.


Up north the Central Coast will start their 2019 season with access out to the PFMC 50 line. The North Central region — San Francisco — will open a month earlier than previously, and a level deeper — out to their PFMC 40 lines.


But here’s the rub. Firstly, it’s not yet. We’ll be fishing out this season as we have been. The changes are planned to become effective in March of 2019.


Then, it will be important to be aware, simply staying in “the right depth” won’t keep you legal. You’ll have to know the point-to-point boundaries or fish well shallower than their nominative 40- or 75-fathom depths. Inside the CCA the line will no longer be defined expressly by depth (currently 20 fathoms or 120 feet). Instead, it’ll be defined by the PFMC CCA 40-fathom point-to-point lines that will be published.


Secondly, you have to descend all deep water fish you release — no floaters! If sportboats trail strings of floating fish up-drift for the birds to pick at, we can be assured access to fish deeper waters will end. Plus, there’s the risk of getting a ticket for wastage of game, and perhaps, over-limits or even take of prohibited species.


So if you see bad actors being bad, hammer them first. Be­cause if we don’t, it could cost us all. What others do may be none of your business — until it is!


Don’t know how to release rockfish? Search “rockfish barotrauma” online and you’ll find a spiffy video on it.


* * *


Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California party boat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.



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