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Bass Populations Collapsing Off Our Coast, Scripps Says

A Scripps Institution of Oceanography-led study finds overfishing of spawning areas and environmental conditions are behind the collapse of two important recreational fisheries off Southern California.

Aired 9/26/11 on KPBS News.

A Scripps Institution of Oceanography-led study finds overfishing of spawning areas and environmental conditions are behind the collapse of two important recreational fisheries off Southern California.

Larry Allen, a coauthor of the study, with a barred sand bass.

Above: Larry Allen, a coauthor of the study, with a barred sand bass.

We talked with Scripps postdoctoral researcher Brad Erisman to find out more about why the health of regional populations of barred sand bass and kelp bass have collapsed.

Brad Erisman is a member of the Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation.

Erisman says the cod fishery that collapsed in the North Atlantic Ocean is the world's most famous example of fisheries data masking an impending collapse, but other fish stocks in regions where fish congregate to spawn are declining as well.

In order to grasp a clear picture of the true health of the barred sand bass and kelp bass in Southern California, Erisman and his colleagues looked outside fisheries data. They tapped into fish population numbers tracked by power plant generating stations, which are required to log fish entrapments as part of their water cooling systems, and underwater visual censuses conducted by Occidental College since 1974.

The authors acknowledge that both bass species began declining in the early 1980s, a drop other studies have directly linked with a climatic shift in regional water temperatures. But they say fishing impacts exacerbated the declines.

"The combined evidence from this study indicates that persistent overfishing of seasonal spawning aggregations by recreational fisheries brought about the collapse of barred sand bass and kelp bass stocks in Southern California," the authors write in their paper.

"The relationship between catch rate and stock abundance suggests there is an urgent need to incorporate fisheries-independent monitoring to create something sustainable and monitor the fisheries effectively," said Erisman. "While fisheries monitoring remains a key part of management, it is clear that such data alone do not provide an accurate assessment of stock condition."

Larry Allen of California State University Northridge; Jeremy Claisse and Daniel Pondella II of Occidental College; Eric Miller of MBC Applied Environmental Sciences; and Jason Murray of the University of South Carolina coauthored the study.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Wings92126'

Wings92126 | September 27, 2011 at 10:46 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

I started fishing in the early 1950's, and was amazed at how productive the local ocean was. Most summer runs out to the Coronado Islands resulted in a limit (10 fish of one species) of 15-25 lb yellowtail and 5 barracuda, bonito, or calico bass to fill out the 15 mixed sports fish limit. Winter rock cod fishing usually produced 20 fish limits that averaged about 5 lbs.

The current sad state of our ocean fisheries is sad and unnecessary. Salt water fish, except sharks, reproduce prodigiously and grow quickly if they're given a chance. That's why I support marine protected areas and strict enforcement of minimum size and limits. We also need maximum size limits to allow the big mama and papa fish to lay and fertilize their gazillions of eggs. Finally, we should greatly restrict or stop fishing of forage fish such as anchovies and sardines.

Back in the 1950's, the old timers talked about how much better fishing was in the 1920's and 30's! We can get that back with backing off the overfishing so the ocean can heal.

David C

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | September 27, 2011 at 11:42 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Meanwhile world population explodes to nearly 7 billion. How will we feed and clothe all these people? Let's just keep promoting our current policies, I'm sure god will find a way to fix it all for us.

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Avatar for user 'msangler'

msangler | September 30, 2011 at 1:48 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Having not read the original paper, I can only go by what is in this article. I find several things disturbing.

"Erisman and his colleagues looked outside fisheries data. They tapped into fish population numbers tracked by power plant generating stations, which are required to log fish entrapments as part of their water cooling systems, and underwater visual censuses conducted by Occidental College since 1974."

How were the underwater survey conducted and where? Which power plants at and at what time of year? Any surveys being done at Catalina, Clemente or the Channel Islands? What year class of fish are caught in cooling system?

"The authors acknowledge that both bass species began declining in the early 1980s, a drop other studies have directly linked with a climatic shift in regional water temperatures. But they say fishing impacts exacerbated the declines.
"The combined evidence from this study indicates that persistent overfishing of seasonal spawning aggregations by recreational fisheries brought about the collapse of barred sand bass and kelp bass stocks in Southern California,"

Where did this conclusion come from. Do kelp bass even have spawning aggregations? I have also left messages with Larry Allen and Erisman.

I will tell you that if asked, recreational anglers would be happy to be part of any survey. But like the white seabass head collections, if they are not picked up, how do you know what is going on?

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