Feature Report: New Bass Regulations

Anglers hit hard with changes to California saltwater bass regulations

BY ERIK LANDESFEIND Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Nov 14, 2012

Sweeping changes have been made in the new saltwater bass fishing regulations that will go into effect on March 1, 2013, 5-fish aggregate for sand, kelp and spotted bay bass  and 14-inch minimums – ouch!

MOST ANGLERS CHOOSE to release big calico bass, like Mike Dumalski did after catching this monster along the Palos Verdes coast, new regulations will force them to also release any bass under 14 inches.

VENTURA — The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) recently approved sweeping changes to the salt water bass fishing regulations. These changes were prompted by a DFG study that concluded the sand bass and calico bass stocks along our coast had been depleted by between 71 and 91 percent over the past decade. The shocking statistics, which were released prior to the August commission meeting in Ventura, were accompanied by a call for immediate action along with a plan for regulation changes that could prevent the theoretical collapse of these popular fisheries.

The proposed plan called for changes to the regulations for all three bass species (calico bass, sand bass and spotted bay bass), increasing the minimum size limit to 13, 14 or 15 inches, reducing the bag limits to somewhere between one and ten fish per species and closing sand bass fishing for up to three months fishing during their summer spawning season.  In a presentation by DFG staffers, the recommendation was made for the commissioners adopt an increased size limit to 13 inches, a bag limit of 10 bass, including no more than five of one species, and a two-week closure on sand bass in the second half of July.

During the public comment portion of the meeting several well respected members of the sport fishing community showed up to plead their cases, including; Don Hanson of Dana Wharf Sportfishing, Tim Green who owner/operator of the San Diego half-day boat Premier and Don Brockman the long-time owner of the Freelance out of Davey's Locker in Newport Beach. In their comments, the captains unanimously supported regulations that would enhance the bass fishery, but warned against an overreaction to the study as they believed the data used to compile the DFG reports was flawed and is not indicative of the actual bass stocks in Southern California.

When asked by Commissioner Mike Sutton, “What would he do given the data presented?” Don Hanson responded that nothing needs to be done — the bass population is not depleted. He went on to explain that the reason the sand bass have been absent during the spawning months over the last few years is because Southern California lays on the upper edge of the sand bass' range and the bulk of the biomass only moves into our waters when the ocean is warm, which it hasn't been since in recent years.

WHILE BIG SAND BASS, like this one caught by Denny Kaneoka, are the goal on sport boats, most of the catch is made up of smaller fish, so the increased size restriction in the new regulations could have a devastating effect on the industry.

Tim Green echoed his sentiments saying that although his half-day boat has been struggling to catch sand bass for the last few years, the fishing has been wide open just several miles down the Mexican coastline.

To further dispute the reported decline, Don Brockman offered that even when the water temperatures are conducive to bringing fish up from Mexico, they don't always bite. Brockman cited this year’s sand bass bite on the Huntington Beach flats, “Based on the fish counts, you would think there are no spawning fish to be caught, but what the counts don't say is that every day the boats were metering huge schools of sand bass, but they weren't catching them because bass were feeding exclusively on the massive amount of squid that was spawning in the same area.”

Regarding the calico bass population, the consensus was that it's healthy but that live bait availability had a big effect on the fish counts. Don Hanson said, “In recent years, the only bait available has been big sardines and it's tough to target 13-inch calico bass when you're using an 8-inch bait. As a result, the counts have gone down making it appear as if the fish stock has been depleted.”

After having several months to mull over the information the DFG Commission met again, on Nov. 7 in Los Angeles, to vote on the new regulations. Following a presentation of facts and recommendations by DFG scientist Erica Jarvis, enviro-biased commissioners Jack Baylis and Michael Sutton were quick to call for strict regulations and maximum seasonal closures despite warnings of possible financial hardship for the sport fishing industry. In fact, Baylis went so far as to admonish Jarvis for even mentioning the economic consequences these changes would have on Southern California’s sportfishing industry.

Sutton followed this up with the comment: “It always gives me a chill up my spine when I hear fishery managers more concerned about economic impact than restoring and maintaining a fishery. We have seen it time and time again in fisheries all across the United States, that excessive concern for economic impact has caused fisheries to crash.”

Regarding seasonal sand bass closures Sutton opined, “We've learned the hard way all over the world that fishing spawning aggregations are a really bad idea so I'm glad that we recognize that here and I completely support closing the fishery while they [sand bass] are trying to spawn. The economic impact of this fishery collapsing completely would be much worse than that of a closure.”

THOUGH A DFG STUDY states that sand bass populations are down between 71 and 91 percent from 10 years ago, fishermen don’t seem to be having any problem catching them. Here Matt Kotch shows off one of the thirty plus bass that he and the author caught and released during a morning of fishing off La Jolla.

President Jim Kellog, who sided with the fishermen on this issue, suggested changing the size and bag limits but holding off on any closures until a study could be done to see if the changes had the desired effect. The question was asked of Jarvis if there would be a way to check bass stocks in a year or two to see if the changes were working. Her reply was that, “any test requires a rigorous monitoring commitment which takes capacity and dollars, neither of which are abundant in the department.” She went on to explain, “Currently we have no estimate of population size so unfortunately we won't be able to come back a year from now with any actual results to determine the regulation's effectiveness.”

Due to the lack of information regarding the bass population and the fact that there were no funds available to the necessary studies, Kellog suggested that it was best to hold off on closures until there was some science established to show that they were warranted. He finished by saying, “I'm against taking too big of a bite in the beginning rather than testing the water with lesser regulations. Who knows, next year those bass could all of a sudden be back with no explanation.”

A motion was made based on Kellog’s recommendation and after several minor amendments were made, the commissioners voted unanimously in approval of a 14-inch minimum size limit for calico bass, sand bass and spotted bay bass, with a total bag limit of five bass and a per species bag limit of five fish, which allows anglers to posses a total of five bass in any combination (for example five calicos or three sand bass a calico and a spottie) as long as they are over 14 inches long with a legal fillet length of 7½ inches. While there will be no sand bass closures, the commissioners agreed that they would remain on the table and could be implemented in the years to come. The new regulations are scheduled to go into effect on March 1, 2013.

The Longfin Tackle Shop
The Longfin Tackle Shop