Bass Debate

Scientists disagree on why California saltwater bass catches are declining

California bass

California bass

A recent statistical study published by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography paints a dire picture of the barred sand bass and kelp bass populations off the southern California coast. Both species enjoy game fish status, meaning they are off limits to commercial fishing

The California Department of Fish and Game statistics back up the study, indicating that the annual barred sand bass catch has declined by 85 percent since 2001, and that kelp bass catches have declined by more than 70 percent since the 1980s.

The Scripps study, funded by environmental groups, leaps to a conclusion, accusing recreational fishermen of overfishing barred sand bass populations. In particular, it lays blame on passenger boats that target sand bass during the summer spawning season when these fish congregate on mud flats in big numbers. Kelp bass — known more commonly as calico bass — do not behave in the same manner, confining their late-spring spawning activities to rocky structure, wrecks and kelp beds, but somehow this fact was glossed over in the decidedly biased conclusions of the Scripps study.

However, Erica Jarvis, a researcher for the DFG, is not so quick to blame anyone except Mother Nature. While these bass are a major target of recreational fishermen, there are other factors to consider, according to Jarvis. She contends that the southern California coast has had a major influx of colder water since 1988, the result of a La Nina in the equatorial Pacific.

“It appears…that warmer periods are more favorable to these species than cool periods,” she reported.

In any case, the study led the California Fish and Game Commission at its January 2012 meeting to begin considering tighter limits on sand bass, calico bass and a lesser-known member of this bass family, spotted sand bass. Ideas tossed around by the commission included smaller bag limits (currently 10 bass in combination), larger minimum size limits (currently 12 inches), seasonal closures and area closures. It may be a year or more before any of these restrictions become reality.

As for me, I have no problem with tighter limits. As long as I can catch and release as many bass as I want, bring them on. I have not killed a sand bass, calico bass or spotted bass in more than 15 years, and I don’t intend to kill any in the future.

However, given the environmentalists’ anti-angling agenda, I doubt that my answer will sit well with them. They won’t be happy until recreational fishing in southern California is banned all together. They don’t like fishing and they don’t like fishermen.

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