The Fishing and Marine Industry Daily News Feed

Conservationists Rally to Restore California’s White Seabass

A California fish species historically prominent in the state’s commercial fishing industry and sportfishing community was nearly wiped out 40 years ago. That species is making an astonishing comeback thanks to innovative programs that are creating a promising future.

For centuries, massive schools of California white seabass roamed the kelpy coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and Baja California in Mexico. Those hefty fish – coveted by restaurants and their fish-eating customers – could grow to 5 feet long and 90 pounds, with most today averaging around 20 pounds. By the late 1800s, they were a highly sought-after food source and a lucrative target of commercial fishing companies.

By the end of the 19th century, most harvested white seabass – or Atractoscion nobilis, which is not a true seabass but the largest croaker in California waters – came from rich waters near San Francisco. By 1920, commercial fishing companies off the California coast relied heavily on gillnets, which snare fish by the gills, and trammel nets, which entangle fish, to haul in their catch.

Although white seabass flourished in Southern California’s inshore waters throughout the first half of the 20th century, their population decreased dramatically from the 1960s into the early ’80s. Prior to that downturn, recreational anglers in the region caught as many as 62,000 white seabass annually, but that number plummeted to fewer than 600 in 1979, according to statistics published in 2002 by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in its “Final White Seabass Fishery Management Plan.”

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