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


500 giant seabass
So... it turns out, if one snoops around much trying to find out how many giant, or black seabass there are you'll find out "scientists have discovered there are only about 500 of the critically endangered giant sea bass, total." Now, if you've been out much at all fishing in SoCal, or diving much, this claim is absolutely unbelievable. In fact, it seems it simply adds evidence to the theory marine scientists are simply out of touch. Or worse yet, they're pursuing agendas, saying what gets them funding and fame and "peer reviewed science" is a bunch of bull. But the truth almost always turns out to be, some advocacy group has misrepresented real results and the scientific community is above taking issue with it.

I was mildly curious about the ridiculous 500 fish thing and so did some snooping. I found that was exactly what was being claimed. L.A. Times reporter Louis Sahagun wrote, "The breeding population of the giant sea bass — which is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature — is believed to be only about 500 individuals."


The Long Beach Post quoted Dr. Douglas McCauley (UCSB, MSI) as having said, "One study using genetics estimated the effective population size (number of mature breeding adults) of giant sea bass in the wild at 500, according to McCauley, although that number is very imprecise."


McCauley said it right while the Post author interpreted it wrong. It's not the "number of mature breeding adults." It can be close, or way under it.


Futurity.org said, "A recent genetic study suggests that fewer than 500 breeding giant sea bass may exist in California." The Wikipedia article on GSBs says, "The total breeding population in 2018 is estimated to be around 500 individuals, of which 40 to 50 return to spawn around Catalina Island each year."


Animaldiversity.org was right down the line following the actual science, without bias. In fact it turned out most online sources of population info tended to follow a realistic "We don't know, but it seems like there are more of them finally," perspective.


As for the DFW, they say "Anecdotal information suggests there has been a gradual increase in giant sea bass numbers over the past few years... No scientific research has been conducted on giant sea bass population trends. To date there is still relatively little known of this apex predatory fish."


The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary also refrained from claiming the GSB population as just 500 reproductive fish, instead following the obvious trend for increasing observations.


Most said the population had reached a very low but unknown level by the 1960s and '70s. Although they've been off limits for sport anglers and from directed commercial take since 1982, it wasn't until the banning of gill nets from coastal state waters and within 1 mile of offshore islands in 1994 via the 1990 passage of proposition 132, that their population began to show an apparent, slow but increasing recovery.


Current regulations still allow gill netters to retain and sell one per trip. Sport angers fishing Mexican waters are allowed to bring up to 2 per trip into California. Mexico has no restriction other than regular limits.


So, what prompted certain, mostly non-scientific sources to cite a population of just 500 fish, total, while a majority of sources spanning agencies, fishing and diving sources and marine science seemed to maintain a more believable perspective?


The source of this bad info seems to stem from a deliberate misinterpretation of the results of a genetic diversity study published in the journal Fisheries Research, December 2015: "Low contemporary effective population size detected in the critically endangered giant sea bass, Stereolepis gigas, due to fisheries overexploitation" (Chris L. Chabot et al.).


The paper's finding is the "effective population" of GSBs is about 500. However, effective population is a genetics term relating to genetic diversity, not population size. And its primary implication is that at one time in the past hundred generations or so, there were very few of the species.


When a population size stays the same for thousands of generations is when the effective population size comes nearest to the actual population number. Examples seem to point to it being, at most, about 70 percent of the true population size, and averaging just 34 percent of it. This, incidentally, not only varies by which part of the genome is used for analysis, but can be in the context of only one sex.


If a population has recently been very small, then rebounds to huge numbers, the resulting population can be so closely related to one another it retains the genetic effective population of whatever it was during the low population time.


Within the DNA's code is lots of stuff that rarely comes out — gathered over eons of evolution and saved for a rainy day when a species needs it. Changes to genes happen very, very slowly, but changes in their expression or use can happen in just a few generations.


Rarely used code can be selected for use by a change in the environment or deliberate breeding. The few individuals born that happen to employ it become the survivors and breeders.


Think of it as all dog breeds having all the genes required to be any breed. But from breed to breed the difference is which plan is used — short legs or long, big or small, grumpy or sweet, mean or caring.


But the big eco-worry is when a population hits a bottleneck or becomes really small, some of the code that was present in the species becomes lost. The species isn't able to adapt as well as it once was. That's why "effective population" size is a concern worthy of doing the genetic analyses required to estimate it.


Ecologically it says, recovering a species is great, but it's not the same as avoiding such bottlenecks in the first place. Some damage has been done. This study points to GSBs having come close enough in the '60s and '70s for conjecture.


Bottom line? It's mostly biased non scientists who omit important details, take science and deliberately misinterpret it — in this case lying to the public by implying only 500 black sea bass remain in the wild. And they do it to create evidence supporting an agenda, e.g. "fishermen are not conservationists." The fishing public's resulting distrust of marine science is collateral damage. "Scientists estimate there are just 500 black sea bass total including Mexico and SoCal! Really?! Ha!"


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Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he is 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.


Big bluefin bite!
As I look at my week ahead I see I can pull off a fishing day for a Wednesday evening departure and Friday morning return. As the week had progressed, a passable offshore forecast morphed into a glass calm one. Checking the boat schedules reveals a very light trip aboard the Condor with a definite go tag. It's just past the new moon too – game on!

On board are captains Jimmy Merrill, Curtis Vanderhoef and night driver Mike Feiberg, crewmen Corey Crumbel and Greg Fell. We visit the Everingham bait receivers and load up both tanks and slammer with nice sardine with some small mackie mixed in. It's there that young angler Kiyan Moein hammers 4 grumpy sandbass on swimbaits.


gavinquin
GAVIN QUIN'S 140-pound bluefin aboard the Condor was the first and biggest of the bunch. Crewman Max Kerr steadies the fish.

At dawn, we're still looking for a spot of fish to stop on. The weather is glass calm, paddies and scraps are everywhere. Not a fish in sight, so we keep looking, along with the Constitution, Pacific Queen, New Lo-An, and Tomahawk.


We stop several times on various sign for nothing, but mostly we keep on moving.


Just past 11 a.m. and finally a spot of fish stays up until we get to it, rather than sinking out. As we slide toward the cavorting fish, all looking a bit on the too big side, anglers fire off irons and poppers. The middle sinks out as we slide toward it.


Then a chunk pops back up along the starboard. Young Kihan's dad Hamid's popper gets blown up on in the midst, but remains floating on top.


Two more splash simultaneously on the port side. Kiyan's Coltsniper gets a lick but is instantly undone. His friend Gavin Quinn is bit on bait right next to him.


He's fishing bait on a leader of Blackwater 50 on 65-pound Izor Brutally Strong braid and a small circle hook. Ultimately he and his Penn Fathom 30II paired with an old school Kennedy Fisher stick win the battle with the squirrely and tough bluefin. We're on the board in a big way. Quinn's big fish tapes out to 140 pounds!


However, it's discovered that his rather small circle hook is all opened up, just barely hung in there.


The crew gills and guts the fish before it goes into the hold. Its stomach is found to be jammed full of stuff, mostly red crabs, with a minor amount of micro fin-bait and some odds 'n ends.


firstfish
FIRST FISH! — Sandbass at the bait receivers for Kiyan Moein.

Fellow angler "Custom Bob" is aboard and discusses the risk one takes, fishing those smaller hooks. Morning has become afternoon, and it's pretty darned slow, but as the afternoon ages the area steadily comes to life. First an occasional breezer now and then becomes breezers and spots of breaking fish in every direction. The bulk of it is small tuna, and it looks tiny — many splashes just barely bigger than decent bass might make.


Some spots show accessory big boys mixed in — some show as 60s while others have much bigger fish. We throw everything at it, spot after spot for no takers at all. The fish won't stick under the boat and quickly disappear soon after we arrive.


After a couple hours of this, all for not a sniff, finally someone hangs a fish — then another, then nothing more.


The two fish turn out to be 3 – a nice yellowtail, a second smaller one and a solid bonito. We're about 50 miles from the dock and 25 offshore.


But with spots of the small tuna everywhere around the boat, including a large spot which hangs just outside casting range, finally a layer of tuna stick under the boat. However, they remain in a sleepy looking flat layer down at 40 fathoms.


We sit for 45 minutes for nothing, watching the minutes tick by as breezers breeze near and far around us. Some are anxious to move on.


But the meter shows those bigger blues under the boat starting to move up and down through the water column. They appear to be waking up. Then there's a splash as one hits the surface, a big one.


A few minutes later, fresh one! Someone finally hooks a fish. Then another hangs on a Flat-Fall. The Flat-Fall one would prove to be snagged by the breast and our only fish on the iron. A few minutes later, another hookup!


It's about 5 p.m. when things get started, finally. We go with a steady 1 to 4 fish hooked at all times. When the first hits the deck finally, the grade is 90 pounds.


Those getting bit are fishing lively baits on 40 pound and super small circles. I go there for a couple of casts before I can't do it any longer. In this bite, there are fish commonly well over the 100-pound mark, some over twice that. I just can't be that guy fishing too light with several other fish going all around the boat, all likely personal bests for those who've hooked them.


Mostly I fish 50 and a heavy wire 1/0, knowing how fish can suddenly get stupid now and again during a stop, especially as the sun sets. I'm hoping as its angle lowers so will the big bluefins’ standards.


Now and again a big fish flashes by the stern. Steadily fish start to make it on deck and the grade's solid — 80 to 100 pounders. The crew is on top of it and despite a couple hairy tangles, the salvage rate is phenomenal, given the light gear and large size.


Each fish takes about an hour to finish, some considerably longer. Every additional minute on the line adds additional risk of something going wrong.


As it grows dark, ultimately a dozen of these big fish are put on deck, far more than half of those hooked. Perhaps only six or eight end up earning their freedom, so 40-pound and tiny circle hooks basically worked.


They never do bite heftier hooks for the likes of Bob and I.


Under the lights the night freaks start to rise from the depths to lurk in their halo — wads of micro-bait, red crabs, salps and comb jellies — other weird little critters too. We transition to the glow iron and sinker rigs but no Flat-Fall or sinker bite develops after dark.


Would I recommend going to the gear that worked? Absolutely! Given the same scenario again, would I do it myself? If I were you, absolutely — but me, I'm hard headed so probably not. It's likely the same for Custom Bob.


We'll both be right back out there for sure.


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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.


smallhooksworked
SMALL HOOKS WORKED but barely. The left one got a 140 pounder to gaff. However the one on the right is a new one from the same pack.

bigbluefinpiling
BIG BLUEFIN PILING up on the Condor's deck. The grade was 80 to 100 pounds on this stop. They took almost an hour to coax into eating a few sardines instead of just the small stuff they were full of — red crabs, tiny fin-bait.

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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.



Coastal Conservation Association event — Texas style
Having fished the Aransas Bay Chapter of CCA Texas’ Babes on the Bay tournament with locals back in 2016, Izorline’s Wendy Tochihara went to work organizing California’s very first team to fish what is the largest 1-day fishing tournament in the US. It’s an all woman angler event held annually out of Rockport, Texas. This year it hosted 1,400 anglers, ranging from “Babe-ettes” — young ladies 16 and under, to tournament veterans, having fished the event since its inception 20 years ago.

The contest consisted of 5 divisions teams elected to participate in. There was pro guided and non-guided, crossed with any bait or artificial only, plus a separate fly fishing division. Babe-ettes could participate in any of the above as a team member and also compete in the individual Babe-ette only contest.


merit_venue
THE VENUE — 1,400 women competed and were accompanied by their male staff (friends and family), Fulton Park, Rockport Texas.


Our first ever all California team, the SoCal Anglerettes, consisted of Wendy Tochihara (Izorline, Big Hammer, SKB, Rod and Reel Radio), Lori Mueller (Seeker, Izorline), Lori Heath (Anglerettes, Fishing Syndicate) and Sophia Huynh (Seeker, Blackwater). The SoCal Anglerettes’ team sponsors were AFTCO, Anglerettes, Xtratuf and Costa, providing the team with matching outfits and wade gear.


While the teams were all women, guides and skippers generally were guys, but banned from fishing. Guides were chartered professionals while skippers were most often husbands and boy friends.


There in Texas red drum and spotted weakfish — AKA spotted trout, seatrout, spotties, trout, were the targets. The state’s slot limits made the game a bit more interesting.


Trout have fangs and keepers range from 15 to 25 inches — with a 5-fish bag. The redfish slot limit is 20 to 28 inches with a 3-fish bag. But anglers get a tag with their annual license to keep one “bull” larger than 28 inches. Also on the table are flounder, tasty but not counted in the tournament.


For the tournament, teams were limited to 3 keeper trout and 1 keeper (20-28-inch) redfish at the weigh in. While a 25-inch trout is unusual, the top redfish contenders tended to be 28 inchers, so what was needed was a fat one. And there were side pots holding the big money in this primarily fun over glory tournament.


Tournament day was windy, southerly winds from high teens to twenties, 85 degrees, 100-percent humidity. Us landlocked guys accompanying our SoCal Anglerettes watched as we waded out to our elbows and flayed the brown water white while fishing hard baits to spoons to Gulp! Powerbait Ribshads.


Along as team support crew were Rob Tressler, Kevin Boyle, Jay Krist and Gary Quan from Tady Lures. We’d found a spot just east of the Aransas County Airport. Along the trail was posted “WARNING ALLIGATOR ZONE.”


merit_socal
SOCAL ANGLERETTES FISHED the CCA’s Aransas Bay Chapter’s Babes on the Bay, all women’s fishing tournament. Here Wendy Tochihara shows a red drum or redfish, Lori Heath has a Gulf flounder and Sophia Hyunh and Lori Mueller have a spotted/speckled seatrout or speck dockside at the house.

So, not to be dissuaded, out we waded. I was wondering if that would be the last time I’d see my feet as they disappeared into the murky waters. As a matter of practice, standard Gulf Coast wading gear includes a 10- or 12-foot-long stringer with a float at the end, keeping the catch well away from the angler — just in case a bull shark, alligator or gar should take notice.


Boats loaded with all matched teams of ladies skated up and down our lee shore, stopping here and there. What we saw was just a tiny fraction of the fleet — scattered up and down through hundreds of square miles of neck to ankle deep inland waters tucked in behind the Texas Gulf Coast’s barrier islands.


By the time we were to wind up and meet the SoCal Anglerettes back at the house, we guys had amassed one keeper trout at about 18 inches, caught by yours truly. But our arms were sore and faces sun burnt.


Tressler had released a pair of smaller trout and had a nice flounder flip off right at the stringer. Early on Jay had been bit hard and fought in a nicer red with similar unfortunate results right at the stringer.


The Anglerettes had seen a tough day of wade fishing with their guide in the artificials only division as well. Tochihara landed a keeper red and 4 others under the mark. Heath had iced a flounder.


At the awards the crowd was immense, wall to wall women and their families. The vendor tents and trailers stretched for blocks. The main canopy covered 50 yards at Fulton Beach Park.


The teams all sported matching team shirts with their team names emblazoned across the back. With a best-dressed category, style points counted. And team names bespoke the fun, light-hearted spirit of the event.


merit_hefty
HEFTY STRINGER OF reds, a saltwater catfish and a sheepshead, (not our sheephead) fishing crab and shrimp at the end of the Port Aransas Jetty one morning.


There were the Reel Captains’ Wives of Rockport, Vitamin Sea and the Casting Cuties among the tamer titles. However, from there it got pretty cute with monikers like the Reel Ladies Hookin,’ the Shelfish Hookers, Reel Cranky, Beer Bait and Boobs, Tackle My Box, Trout Ticklers, Hookin Aint’ Easy, Salty Lips, Screamin Seaman, P.M.S. Packing Monster Stringers, Reel Filthy Oars, Dirty Oars, Reel Nauti Hookers, Bitches Wit Da Fishes, Goin’ Coastal Gals, Drunk Wives Matter, Reel Nauti Beaches, Boobs and Bobbers, The Salty Seastars, Heels and Reels, Saltwater Snacks, Tiaras and Tackle, Trophy Wives, Pink Snappers, Titty Deep, Ladies in Wading — and more.


Here’s a bit more on tackle. First, the beach fishing is crazy as to what one might hook. Mostly it was fish under 5 pounds on tap, yet we watched 50-pound jacks flash and slash through knee deep water one afternoon. Real bait — live shrimp, pinfish, croaker, or fresh crab is absolutely an advantage, while tossing artificials is hard to resist.


Most fished these waters with basically calico bass gear when boating or wading. Popular patterns in plastics are shrimp replicas, swimbaits, either white or copper with chartreuse paddle tails, gold spoons, heavy chrome as spoons or iron, jerk and crankbaits with pinks, white, red and metallic gold in the pattern.


High visibility bobbers over bait or shrimp replicas are key in the shallow brackish waters, with popping corks or clackers like the Cajun Thunder at the top of the list. Leaders are kept short, only a couple of feet, which is often half the water depth and sometimes puts the bait right on the bottom. A good long cast out away from your own wake is helpful.


I packed a single rod and reel inside my checked baggage for the trip, an 11-foot 4-piece travel surf rod paired with a fairly large spinning reel. The rod was Daiwa’s Ardito and the reel a Penn Spinfisher VI 5500 spooled with 50-pound braid.


For a single setup the easy packing system was perfect. Though I’m generally not a spinning gear guy, the outfit allowed for a wide range of effective casting and catching, from 16-ounce jigheads to 5-ounce irons. The 11-foot length launched it all, while providing enough backing to handle anything on up to those big jacks or the thigh diameter bull reds we occasionally saw roll on top in the muddy water.


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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.


merit_braving
BRAVING THE ELEMENTS — The author with a keeper speckled trout.


•   •   •  •   •

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.


Errata
A couple weeks back, I wrote a bit about seasons and limits. In it, I cited the trawl fishery had most of the current lingcod allocation at an “80/20” split between trawl/hook and line sectors. That now appears untrue, while the gist of the issue, that there is a lot of unattained ling harvest available, yet the hook-and-line sector is right against the line on our allocation, is true.

In the past week I received the DFW’s most recent set of ling catch projections, which included a table of the past years’ allocation and harvest by sector. Crunching those numbers revealed the trawl/hook and line split as 45/55 actually, with hook and line “non-trawl” getting the slightly larger share.


Now, “non-trawl” includes not only us recreational anglers, but commercial hook-and-line fishers as well. And this split is less formal – more fluid. So, the result is we’re in the same boat when it comes to lingcod.


This is the scenario cast by that table of numbers for the years 2013 to 2018. The average harvest guideline set was 1,078 metric tons (mt). The mean trawl allocation was 485mt, of which they harvested just 25mt on average, or slightly more than 5 percent of it.


On the non-trawl side, the average allocation was 593mt, of which an average of 555mt or 95.3 percent was taken. In the years 2016 and 2017 non-trawl overshot our allocation, which is what lead to such a high mean.


South of the “forty-ten” (40º 10’ N ~Cape Mendocino) management line, we sports take by far the greater number of lings, which appears to be roughly 80 percent of the total ling catch, all sectors combined, and about 85 percent of the non-trawl catch. This equates to roughly 44 percent of the total harvest guideline for lings on average.


However, the bottom line was, just under 55 percent of the harvest guideline was taken, meaning over 45 percent of the available harvest was left in the water for whatever eats lings besides us.


The excess ling availability was of course due to California’s greatly reduced trawler fleet, one which now fishes very cleanly, catching very few lings. Trawlers still hold the keys to almost half the allocation of lings fisheries models show as available for harvest.


Hopefully those fish are still out there waiting for us. However, looking at the steep decline in our catch rates in the last two years suggests perhaps not. Maybe they just went deep as they got bigger, and out of our reach. Or maybe there was a ling plague or sea lions got ’em. Who knows?


While one might say the drop in ling catches has to do with the reduction in daily bag limit from 3 to 2 fish in 2017, the steep decline in SoCal ling catch continued between ’17 and ’18. State wide, however, non-trawl catches remained similar between the two years, actually increasing slightly. So maybe they just went north to visit with our long lost albacore.


In response to that column, Mr. Steve Crooke, a retired DFG marine biologist still actively involved in fisheries management at the federal level, commented, “Great article on bag limits and seasons. You might have added that scientifically derived size limits tend to strengthen both for fish which can be released alive.”


So there you have it. Having size limits increases access as more liberal bag limits and longer season lengths.


Sheephead — the new fillet regs are out!


Recently, the Sportfishing Association of California worked in collaboration with the DFW to finally develop a sheephead fillet size limit and regulations for filleting sheephead at sea. Now no longer will you have to come home with your goats whole in a bag.


The new regs call for a minimum fillet length of 63/4 inches. The entire skin must be left fully attached, on the fillet.


While the pros already know this, private boaters must be aware — any sheephead fillet filleted prior to going into rigor will shrink considerably.


You’ll want to make sure any close to limit (12 inches) sheephead are dead and stiff, as well as straight before you fillet them. The goat daily bag limit is 5 fish.


Sardines:


PFMC member Capt. Louie Zimm forwarded — the comment period for “amendment 17” of the “sardine fishery management plan” is out for public comment. This is a critical amendment with the purpose of keeping live bait in the boxes and bait tanks.


At issue is another extremely low sardine stock assessment for the northern subpopulation of Pacific sardine. This week, this is likely to throw sardines into being declared overfished, which would automatically require no more than 15 percent of any bait catch be sardine, under current regulations.


This would hammer live bait fishing. Bait schools are most often predominantly of one species, yet mixed. Having to pass up any bait schools showing many sardines in them 100 percent of the time would drive costs up and risks rationing at the bait dock, though there’s fin-bait aplenty. And we love those hard swimming sardines.


Zimm writes: “The chances are good that sardines will be declared overfished next week at the PFMC meeting. The reasons for this are complicated but have to do with the fact that sardines have been concentrating very close to the coast the past few years. This area of concentration is out of the reach of the large survey vessels that conduct the Coastal Pelagic Species survey. Also there is much discussion whether the sardines that we use for live bait are of the Northern or Southern Stock. The stock that is being considered for the overfished declaration appears to be of the Northern Stock.”


Amendment 17 would allow the PFMC more flexibility in this regard. “The intent of Amendment 17 is to allow more flexibility in setting restrictions on the live bait portion of the fishery when a stock is overfished and would not weaken any statutory requirements to rebuild an overfished stock.”


The key issues here are: Sardines used as live bait never leave the ecosystem. In fact, the vast majority of them are released alive as chum. The amount the live bait fishery takes is tiny as a fraction of the normal fishery.


In addition, there is a likelihood the assessment simply missed most of the current biomass in their surveys, as much of it was concentrated in very near-shore waters not surveyed effectively. And also, as Zimm points out, It’s not clear whether our SoCal sardine is actually the same stock as the stock with the very low assessment.


Allowing the Council the flexibility to establish regional regulations rather than submitting to a Pacific Coast wide, one-size-fits-all reduction to 15 percent or less of any haul is key.


Comments must be received by May 17.


You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2018-0137, by any of the following methods:


Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2018-0137, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.


Mail: Submit written comments to Barry A. Thom, Regional Administrator, West Coast Region, NMFS, 501 W Ocean Blvd., Ste. 4200, Long Beach, CA 90802-4250; Attn: Lynn Massey.


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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.


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.


* * *


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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