Editorial Report: Perspective

Perspective: Open Letter to F&G Commission

BY DONALD HANSENPublished: Feb 20, 2012


Landing owner urges no closure on sand bass, supports 13-inch minimum on calico, sand bass

As the owner of Dana Wharf Sportfishing in Dana Point Harbor, in business since 1971, and previously in San Clemente, known as San Clemente Sportfishing, we have been fishing our local coast for more than four decades and I consider myself an expert on both the calico bass and sand bass fishery. We have had the pleasure of taking thousands of people fishing every year and bass fishing is a favorite amongst our passengers who sport fish to practice catch and release as well as sport fish to provide food. The joy one gets from catching his or her own dinner is priceless.

In mid-2011, a study came out talking about the collapse of both sand and calico bass from Brad Erisman, a postdoctoral researcher with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Many people in the fishing industry disagree with his findings.

In regards to many comments about changing management regulations for kelp bass and barred sand bass, the authors of the original paper “Illusion of Plenty” missed the mark when stating fishing spawning aggregations of these species has decimated the resource. While it is true that Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessels (CPFV) target both kelp and sand bass during the spawning season, the current size limit of 12 inches and a landing limit of 10 bass in combination offers adequate restrictions to protect both populations.

The size limit is based on kelp bass life history work conducted by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) in the 1950s. Using a yield-per-recruit model, the Department determined maximum catch occurred at either 12 or 13 inches with the former providing greater numbers of individuals and the latter providing fewer larger fish. Recreational anglers at the time asked for greater numbers of fish so the 12-inch limit was adopted. The 10-fish catch limit was established to provide anglers with opportunity for a quality day of fishing while distributing the catch more evenly. It was not put in place not to protect the fish from over exploitation, as you might do with fish with no size limit (rockfish etc).

Sand bass catches in southern California are dependent on a population of resident fish and large increases in numbers following significant warm water events. Prior to the 1983 El Niño, catches aboard Commercial Passenger fishing Vessels (CPFV) averaged approximately 200,000 per year with a small spike following the 1973 El Niño.

Beginning two years after the 1983 El Niño, catches started to climb and remained high until 2003 (there were two El Niños within this period, 1992 and 1997). Since then they have returned to levels slightly lower than the 1983 El Niño. Whether warm water results in greater spawning success or there is a mass movement of fish from northern Baja California is unknown.

Perhaps both contribute to high sand bass abundance following major warm events. In the “Illusion of Plenty” paper, the authors reported a 9 percent decline in barred sand bass catches from 2000 to 2008. Records from CDFG-CPFV logs show the decline wasn’t as bad as stated: 738,000 fish were harvested in 2000 and 195,000 landed in 2008. This is a 74 percent decline and shows the population has returned to pre-El Niño levels. During the period from 1975 through 1979, sand bass catches averaged 132,000 fish, 37,000 less than the last four years (2006-2010).

What this shows is that barred sand bass catches have reached low levels in the past and recovered to produce large catches without changes in regulations. Given the current state of the fishery, it appropriate is to keep the existing regulations in place.

As stated earlier, much is known about kelp bass. The authors of the “Illusion of Plenty” stated that the kelp bass catch had declined 95 percent from 1965 to 2008. Using the CDFG-CPFV catch reported in logs from 2008 which was 198,786 fish, that means anglers harvested the 3,975,000 kelp bass in 1965. Looking at the CDFG log data for 1965 shows that 1,230,000 kelp and barred sand bass were landed in combination.

Unfortunately, individual species catch data were not collected until later, so the 1965 is in question. The highest kelp bass catch from CDFG-CPFV data starting in 1975 is 501,000 fish in 1981. The 2008 catch from CDFG data is 199,000 fish which represents a 60 percent decline.

During the period from 1975 to 2008, catches dipped as low as 129,000 fish in 1999 but rebounded up to 322,000 by 2004. Given the variability in the fishery, the current 12-inch size limit appears to provide adequate protection for the population since even after low periods of abundance, the population rebounds. Anecdotal information from recreational anglers and CPFV crews indicate there is a large population of “short” fish. This would indicate that recruitment is adequate and variations in catch may be due to year class strength, not over fishing as some assume.

Thank you for reading my findings on the subject and I urge you to watch and study this fishery but do not act on it as we are suffering already from the MLPA fishing closures the state surely cannot afford to cripple a fishing industry that is already trying to cope with new regulations.

Donald Hansen
Owner, Dana Wharf Sportfishing

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