Feature Article: WSB Fishery Program

Growout program builds success of WSB fishery at Channel Islands Harbor

BY BOB SEMERAU/WON Staff WriterPublished: Jan 02, 2019

OXNARD — The incredible recovery of white seabass populations across the SoCal bight can be attributed to a variety of significant initiatives.

One of those efforts to be credited are the volunteer programs all along the coast as local organizations manage growout pens, rearing fish too small to be released, into strong, healthy white seabass.

growoutpensGROWOUT PENS AT Channel Island Yacht Club docks have raised 220,000 white seabass to be released into open ocean waters.

Here at Channel Islands Harbor, at a dock belonging to the Channel Islands Yacht Club, the three-pen floating system sits just north of the docks of Channel Islands Sportfishing.

The ongoing work at the pens by the local yacht club, the Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute, the Ocean Resources Enhancement program, and the Coastal Conservation Association, California, has proven to be a winning combination.

Built in 1992 by Jim Donlon and other club members, the pens have been the release point of some 220,000 viable fish into the open waters at the harbor.

“We get all the fish, food, nets, and technical assistance from the hatchery at Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute. They bring us thousands of small white seabass to be raised over the three months they are under our stewardship,” says yacht club program director, Frank Sullivan.

The most recent delivery of 5,000 small WSB arrived under clear skies and calm winds; a perfect day to bring in the load of young fish.

A dozen volunteers were on hand to assist with the load-in as assistant Hatchery Manager and Growout Coordinator, Jim Demattia, arrived in his bright red Ford F-250 pickup. The heavily loaded trailer had to be jockeyed up the curb and onto the grassy knoll to maneuver close to the docks, a real test of everyone’s skill and imagination.

growoutcrewGROWOUT CREW OF volunteers from the local Channel Islands Yacht Club have been raising WSB at these pens since 1992.

After Hubbs manager, Demattia, had successfully backed to the unload point, a pump was set up and hoses attached to the tanks. The pump moved a good amount of the much cooler sea water to the tanks to help acclimatize the small fish before transferring the 5,000 fish into the pens.

Reversing the process sent the prized fish down the ramp and into the farthest pen of the three. The decision to use only the two outer pens and leave the center pen vacant, came after a previous experience with disease spreading amongst the pen-raised fish. Another pen was to be loaded on the following day, and a third delivery would be split between the two pens to round up the total to some 15,000 fish.

Automatic feeders deliver the precise amount of scientifically balanced pellets to the fish each day and after three months of careful nurturing, the 6-inch fish grow to a viable 10-to14-inch size to be released.

During that time yacht club volunteers will clean the nets, check on the feeders, and generally mother the fish daily. Constantly checking the bird and predator nets, removing any fish that might have died, and keeping track of the health of the fish is all in a day’s work for these volunteers.

seriesofhosesSERIES OF HOSES draws cool seawater into the tanks and delivers white seabass to be raised at the pens in Channel Islands Harbor.

Then, on a dark and quiet night, when the moon is right, the group will convene once again for the big event. After checking to be sure predators have not taken notice, and with the approval of the hatchery coordinator, Director Sullivan will give the signal for the nets to be lowered.

Some fish take a little coaxing to find their way into the open waters, but with luck and instinct guiding them, the school of fish will exit the harbor and disperse to grow to full size.

“The purpose of the program is to replenish the ocean stock. Once released it takes 4 to 5 years for the fish to reach the legal take minimum of 28 inches. Each fish has a hidden coded wire tag imbedded in its right gill plate. The tag is detected by a magnetic sensing device,” explained Program Director Sullivan.

With the work competed and fish safely in their pens, the volunteers stood back and enjoyed the view of their efforts. Seeing fish teeming in the waters within the nets, moving freely about and awaiting their next meal, is what it’s all about for these folks.

The continued support of programs like the one at Channel Islands Harbor will help to ensure the opportunities for tanker white seabass all along the Southern California Coast. The combined efforts of volunteers and researchers working together year ‘round has already proven to be the perfect path to success.


Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute (760) 434-9501

Frank Sullivan, Channel Islands Yacht Club Program director, (805) 985-6155

Coastal Conservation Association, California (805) 703-4642

transparenthosesTRANSPARENT HOSES deliver the fish along the docks and into the pens to be grown to viable size for survival in the wild. Each fish has a coded tag embedded behind its gill plate with information particular to that fish. Some fish want to swim upstream and head back home.

LAST OF THE white seabass awaiting transfer to the pens remain active and ready to goas the water is pumped down to the docks.

whiteseabassgoinWHITE SEABASS GO in while the ever-watchful mascot, Sparky, oversees the operation.

* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website 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.