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Tuesday, August 29, 2017
The Navy puts kibosh on kites at SCI

Scientists collect two live giants
Cal-State Northridge professor Dr. Larry Allen and crew chartered the Reel Fun out of Dana Wharf Sportfishing this past Tuesday with the goal of collecting a pair of 100-pound class black seabass, or giant seabass, as they are named officially. Fellow scientists including Catalina Island Marine Institute's Kent Woods were aboard for the day, fishing along the local coast with skipper Chris Pica and his crew.

The bite was on, enabling them to capture several of the be­hemoths and select a pair that were proper candidates for their research project. Their project focuses on sounds that the big blacks make. It has long been thought GSBs make the loud "booms" sometimes heard when they are in the area.

DR. LARRY ALLEN works on venting a giant seabass destined to do its part for science, singing seabass songs for scientists at Cal-State Northridge.

Scientists have discovered how the big fish actually make the sound, and now want to find out what other sounds they might make, and what inspires them. Allen and crew hope to hold these fish for a year or more while these observations are going on, and hope to release the fish once they've done their bit for science.

In recent years, many fish have been discovered to make sounds by a large variety of methods. Midshipmen hum. Garibaldi click and whirr and make tail thumps as males try to run invaders off their nests. Males make nests and guard them, collecting eggs from any passing female they can convince to leave them a few. Of course, the more they have, the more they get, rock-star style.

Copper rockfish and cabezon grind their "pharyngeal jaws." Lots of croakers "croak" like the male white seabass. Perhaps you've heard this when they are fresh on deck? They make this buzzing sound by vibrating their muscularized swim bladders. Herring make clicking sounds — “Fast Repetitive Ticks," or FRTs as they are called. You'll never guess how they do it. They bubble gas out of their vents… yes indeedy, fish farts. Herring communicate by FRTing. Here's a link, you can listen for yourself:

Well Pica and crew had it going on, and it looked pretty wide open on the video the scientists posted: https://youtube/dbRDcr-zWHs

You may be wondering how it is these scientists can have blacks when anglers can't. Well, the scientists jumped through lots of hoops, justifying the value of their project in order to get permission. They applied for and were finally granted a Scientific Collecting Permit for the two fish.

But I know how it is. Anybody who catches a fish you can't, or in a way you don't must be cheating, or bad or an enemy — right?

This short-sighted perspective is ubiquitous among our brethren anglers. I distinctly recall an incident where some scientists were trying to collect some fish by using a short panel of gill net at San Clemente Island. One day, in a phenomenal hit, they hauled up some 90 or more white seabass, and caught hell for it from all of us.

The entire sportfishing community came unglued, outraged, said a lot of mean-spirited things, and generally got belligerent about it and such. It was a scene. And I remember distinctly how ridiculously biased it all was. The plain fact was, these scientists made a one-time haul that we would have been perfectly happy to see go into sportboat gunny sacks daily.

If three sportboats had gone in there, each with 30 folks and limited out, catching 270, There'd have been high fives all around, the skiff fleet would have been all over it the next day trying to sack up 500 more. If they did, we'd have had it on the front page!

Instead, it was wailing and wringing of hands, because the fish were caught in some other way than the way we do it. No credit was accorded for it being a one-time deal, following all the regulations, and being perfectly sustainable.

It was shameful how we anglers lost our cool and seemed as blithely unaware of our own impacts as an anti-hunter at a barbecue. We said killing those 90 seabass was raping the resource, yet we would have been perfectly cool with full seabass limits for a fleet of sportboats.

There are two other ways GSBs are legally kept in California. Regulations allow Mexican-licensed anglers to bring up to two GSBs home from Mexico. Commercial gillnetters can retain and sell a GSB per day. Gill nets are now heavily regulated and are not allowed within 3 miles of the mainland coast, or within one mile of any California island.

I must say, I'm not a fan of fishing gears that are intended to kill a critter before you ever get a chance to see it live and make a choice. But I know good people who still fish that way. They are few and a dying breed already though.

It seems the giants are finally coming back. If we're lucky, some day we may see a few black seabass tags available, like deer tags. Part of making it happen is learning and knowing as much about these fish as we can. The environmental community has already successfully snapped up the few GSB spots they knew of, within MPAs, so that community is already well served.

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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:

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