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Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

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Wednesday, November 01, 2017
Bluefin on the chew
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Piscis non grata


What does winning look like?
As part of our trip to Texas to see the Coastal Conservation Association’s National Executive Board Meeting, Wendy Tochihara and I got a chance to see what is likely the largest saltwater fish hatchery in the nation. To put this into context, our California white seabass hatchery and grow-out operation, the Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program (OREHP), has a good-sized lab facility in Carlsbad. It is supported in part by our Ocean Enhancement stamp we each purchase each year as part of our recreational fishing licenses.

broodstock
BROODSTOCK TANK ROOM for red drum. Other rooms housed the speckled seatrout broodstock and summer flounder.

Up and down the coast, local volunteer groups support white seabass grow-out facilities and many of you may have volunteered at one time or another, in feeding and care of the juvenile fish during their first summer. Wendy says our program just recently released its two millionth baby white seabass. At Sea Center in Texas, they grow and release 24 million baby fish per year on average. Their grow-out ponds cover 72 acres as 36, 2-acre ponds. Their annual production has exceeded 35 million fingerlings in four years.


Here’s how it all started…


By 1979, the red drum, a relative of the white seabass, attaining similar sizes but adapted to life in shallow flats, bays and estuaries, had been nearly fished out of existence.


It wasn’t threatened with extinction, but for all practical purposes, population levels were so low that fishing for them was laughable. Only commercial gill netters got any at all and catches had been beaten down to extremely low levels. The general public fished and they were outraged.


In 1980, gill nets were banned and the newly formed predecessor to the CCA, the Gulf Coast Conservation Association, had been instrumental in this effort. In 1981 the state declared the both red drum and spotted weakfish/seatrout as game fish and prohibited their commercial sale. The Texas public had won back its right to these fishes.


But what had they won really? There weren’t any red fish and few seatrout. They had won the right to try to bring them back from the brink. The Texas CCA, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department found a partner in DOW Chemical, and together the Sea Center was born.


satelliteviewSATELLITE VIEW OF Sea Center Texas in Lake Jackson, south of Houston.


In 1996, the Sea Center opened it’s doors for the first time, a visitor’s center with an aquarium and a massive hatchery facility. The Sea Center complemented the existing CCA/TPWD Fisheries and Mariculture Lab established in 1979 at Port Aransas.


Over the years, hatchery production coupled with natural production and conservation measures have rebuilt the red drum and seatrout populations into thriving fisheries once again. The hatchery is taking on the much more challenging production of summer flounder, a fish very similar to our halibut.


Here in California we discovered natural production of white seabass can be huge. Conservation was key. This finding was largely due to the scientific efforts made possible by our white seabass stocking effort. Our two million plus stocked white seabass appear to comprise less than 1 percent of the adult population, actually a really positive result.


In Texas the stocked fish can represent from just a percent or two to as high as 15 percent of the local population, depending on the given bay or estuary. Great care is taken to assure a wide variety of parent genes are present, brood stock are paired with different mates throughout the season and cycled though in just four years, then returned.


In reality, it’s likely that natural selection quickly fixes any maladaptive traits hatchery production may briefly delay the weeding of as it quickly boosts numbers. And it’s really quite surprising how concerned some get about hatchery fish, considering the tremendous postponing of natural selection processes modern medicine fosters in our own species, and no one cares about.


Letting people suffer with or die of perfectly curable defects in order to prevent them from passing their genetics into the general population is unthinkable. I like my contact lenses and seeing clearly. But I digress.


reddrum

RED DRUM LOVE NEST. Each tank held a male with 4 females. Here, they’re interested in seeing us in the window, so they crowded in.


Who cares if an extra generation of half-blind fish is released to make a go of it from time to time because a half-blind parent got a shot in the hatchery instead of becoming bird food.


CCA Texas has 55,000 members who donated $2,204,600 for habitat restoration, and donated $150,000 to fish hatcheries and $225,000 in TPWD internships in the last 5 years, and $4,000,000 in scholarships, including five Marine Science post-graduates.


DOW Chemical – Texas Operations produced 50 million red drum fingerlings in satellite rearing ponds between 1985 and 1995, before the Sea Center was built. DOW Donated the 75 acres of land the Sea Center is built on to Texas Parks and Wildlife for its construction. It established Sea Center’s Volun­teer Program, which is largely staffed by DOW retirees. DOW provided maintenance and funding for the Center’s first five years and still provides the electrical service and power for the Sea Center.


Texas PWD runs the day-to-day operations at the Center.


CCA Texas and a general public who fishes have forged industry and agency partnerships and relationships that ask marine scientists to find sensible synergistic solutions, and it’s all about better fisheries, robust wildlife and rich, productive ecosystems.


* * *


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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