Nearshore Fishes

weighing of white sea bass, CDFW CRFS photo; Guad Dunes Surfperch Derby, CDFW photo by Ken Oda; recreational angler, CDFW photo by Ken Oda; angler interview, CDFW photo by Colin Brennan; Marina del Rey Halibut Derby, CDFW photo by Sabrina Bell

California Halibut

California halibut are large, toothed flatfish found in nearshore waters and may be described as being an estuarine-inner shelf species. They are visual ambush predators that range from Magdalena Bay, Baja California north to the Quillayute River in Washington, being most abundant from central California to Baja California. Though they may be found in ocean waters as deep as 600 ft (183 m), they are most often caught by anglers in 10 to 90 ft (3 to 27 m) of water. California halibut are broadcast spawners, and eggs are fertilized externally. Adults migrate from the continental shelf into shallow coastal waters and bays before spawning, usually from February through September. Eggs are pelagic (free floating). Larvae develop with one eye on each side of the head. As California halibut mature and reach the post-larval stage (20-29 days), one eye migrates to the other side so that both eyes are on the same side. California halibut may be right- or left-eyed.

Species Identification

California halibut are usually uniformly brown to brownish-black on the eyed side, and have the ability to change skin color patterns to camouflage with the substrate. They may have white spots, especially juveniles, which often fade after death. The non-eyed side is usually entirely white, though some mottling may occur. The lateral line is most distinctive and is highly arched above the pectoral fin. The mouth is large with conical teeth. The maxilla (top jaw bone) extends beyond the eye. There are less than 77 soft dorsal rays.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Pleuronectiformes
Family: Paralichthyidae
Genus: Paralichthys
Species: californicus

California halibut - a flat, bottom fish

Pacific halibut vs. California halibut

In the Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis), the maxilla extends only to the front edge of the eye, whereas the maxilla extends beyond the eye in California halibut. Pacific halibut have more than 80 soft dorsal rays and the eyes are always on the right side of the head whereas California halibut will have less than 77 soft dorsal rays and the eyes may be on the right or left side (dextral or sinistral).

Studies

California halibut is one of the most important recreational species in Southern California, and commercially-fished species among the state-managed fisheries. The Southern California Fisheries Research and Management Project obtains Essential Fishery Information (EFI) such as length, weight, age, and sex of halibut from commercial landings in Southern California ports and from sport-caught fish. The Northern and Central California Finfish Research and Management Project obtains basic length, weight, age, and reproductive information from sampled landings in central and southern California ports. Choose from the links below for more information about California halibut.

  • Fishery Independent Trawl Surveys
    Staff began collecting an index of California halibut abundance in Southern California in 2018.
  • Green sturgeon post-release impacts in central California halibut trawl fishery: This project is collaborating with central California commercial halibut trawl fishermen, NOAA Fisheries Santa Cruz office, and the West Coast Groundfish Observer Program, to place satellite tags on green sturgeon caught as bycatch in the halibut trawl fishery.
  • Cruise Report: California Halibut (Paralichthys californicus) CDFW/NMFS Light Touch Trawl Survey of North Monterey Bay (2013)
  • Cruise Report (PDF): California Halibut (Paralichthys californicus) Trawl Survey of North Monterey Bay (2010)
  • Cruise Report (PDF): Southern California Fishery-Independent Halibut Trawl Survey (2008)
  • Cruise Report (PDF): Fishery-Independent Trawl Survey in Monterey Bay (2007)
  • Length- and age-at-maturity study: The Project was awarded a grant through the Bay-Delta Sport Fishing Enhancement Stamp Fund for research to determine length- and age-at-maturity for male and female California halibut within San Francisco Bay. In a collaborative partnership with Moss Landing Marine Labs, California halibut maturity was additionally studied from fish collected along the open central California coast. The results from these studies were combined to assess maturity, using histological parameters, in the central California region as a whole and have now been published in an article available in the journal California Fish and Game (PDF). Comprehensive estimates of length- and age-at-maturity, using macroscopic parameters, for halibut were previously available from the southern California region (Love and Brooks 1990). Using those data, the article discusses regional differences in maturation between southern and central California. Additionally detailed descriptions useful in determining reproductive phase and spawning state for California halibut are presented.
    • Data summary:
      • In central California, 50% of males were mature by 27.0 cm (1.1 yr) and 50% of females were mature by 47.3 cm (2.6 yr), according to histological parameters.
      • In southern California, 50% of males were mature by 22.7 cm (1.3 yr) and 50% of females were mature by 47.1 cm (4.3 yr), according to macroscopic parameters.
  • San Francisco Bay Hooking Mortality Study: In 2009 CDFW staff completed the second year of a hooking mortality study for halibut initiated in 2008 within San Francisco Bay. This study evaluated the potential impact of various gear types on released halibut. Upon landing, the type of hook, hooking location, and length of the fish were recorded. Selected halibut were retained at the Aquarium of the Bay for observation. View the unpublished study report (PDF).
  • Statewide Stock Assessment: The CDFW has collected and summarized recent and historical data for use in a statewide stock assessment for California halibut. Historical and current catch and biological data were included. This is the first statewide evaluation of the California halibut resource. View the completed assessment.
  • California Halibut Sex Determination Guide (PDF)
  • External Sex Determination of California Halibut (Video)
    CDFW instructional video by Kristine Lesyna

California Halibut Trawl Surveys

The goal of this study is to develop a fishery-independent index of juvenile California Halibut abundance. The index can be used to inform management on the status of the resource, and provide predictions for recruitment to the fishery in Southern California. Because juvenile halibut spend their first couple of years exclusively in shallow offshore locations and embayments, conducting swept area trawl surveys can be used to evaluate distribution, relative abundance, and expected contributions to the fishery. 

Starting in April 2018, CDFW staff began conducting biannual trawl surveys in the spring and fall months using a 25 ft. otter trawl. Trawls are deployed in 13 primary locations ranging from San Diego to Los Angeles. Ten 10-minute trawl surveys are conducted in 8 to 20 ft. depths at each location, and all of the fish caught are identified and measured. All halibut greater than 3 inches are internally tagged with a Passive Integrator Transponder (PIT) tag that allows for identification of specific individuals when recaptured. This study uses similar methods to those used by CDFW from 1993-1995, including net parameters, survey locations, depths, and trawl times. Following these past protocols presents the opportunity to evaluate current population abundance relative to results obtained in the 1990s and establishes a new baseline for comparison to future surveys. 

Across two years and four sampling surveys, the average halibut abundance varied greatly among locations but was similar between years (Figure 1); there was no significant difference between spring and fall surveys. Protected locations like bays and harbors yield a significantly higher number of juvenile halibut per area compared to coastal locations. Halibut are the third most abundant species caught while trawling, although they are the most abundant fisheries species (Table 1).

Comparing the most recent (2018-2019) and past (1993-1995) study periods, halibut density was similar among all years except for 1994 which was significantly higher at all but one location (Figure 2). It is also interesting that commercial halibut landings between these two time periods were also similar (Figure 3). Both recent and past trawl study time periods occurred during similar warm temperature regimes, with 1994-1995 being classified as a 'moderate' El Nino and 2018-2019 classified as a 'weak' El Nino. Based on the significant greater number of juvenile halibut in 1994 at a size of approximately 6-8 inches (~1 year old), CDFW would have predicted a large increase in commercial landings of halibut 5-7 years later (1999-2001) when they would be approximately 6-8 years old and 25-29 inches in length, the typical size landed in the Southern California fishery.

A chart showing the average number of halibut observed at each location for 2018 and 2019 surveys
Figure 1. Average number of halibut observed per 300m2 at each location. Black bars represent the average of spring and fall surveys in 2018 and white bars represent 2019 surveys. The error bars represent one standard error.

A chart showing the average number of halibut observed at each location for all survey years
Figure 2. Average number of halibut observed per 300m2 at each location. The white, grey, and black bars indicate 1990’s data, and blue shaded bars represent the more recent survey years. The error bars represent one standard error.

A chart showing commercial landings in pounds of California halibut in Southern California from 1990 to 2019
Figure 3. Commercial landings in pounds of California halibut in Southern California from 1990 to 2019. The large black circles represent the time periods of the past (1993-1995) and more recent (2018-2019) trawl surveys. The asterisk indicates when a predicted spike in landings would be seen based on the 1994 trawl data.

Table 1. The total number of species sampled across all locations for 2018 and 2019 sampling periods, ranked in order of most to least abundant.

Species Total Number Caught
Queenfish 2,747
Sanddab species 1,501
White Croaker 1,123
California Halibut 978
Perch species 768
Round Stingray 516
California Lizardfish 414
Barred Sand Bass 238
Yellowfin Croaker 181
Pipefish species 162
California Tonguefish 135
Topsmelt 128
California Corbina 111
Spotted Turbot 104
Fantail Sole 82
Bat Ray 76
Diamond Turbot 74
Thornback Ray 66
Spotfin Croaker 53
Spotted Sand Bass 41
Kelp Bass 26
Sargo   22
Giant Kelpfish 21
California Butterfly Ray 20
Curlfin Sole 18
Pacific Jack Mackerel  17
White Seabass 14
Unidentified Croaker  10
Speckled Midshipman 10
Pacific Sardine 10
California Scorpionfish 10
Hornyhead Turbot 9
Horn Shark 8
Rock Wrasse 7
Shovelnose Guitarfish 5
Pacific Angel Shark 5
Pacific Staghorn Sculpin 4
Salema 3
Leopard Shark 3
Torpedo Ray 2
Cusk Eel 2
Treefish 1
Jack Smelt 1
Cabezon 1
Basketweave Cusk-Eel 1

Ageing Studies

In 2009 the Project began to determine the age of California halibut using thin sections of otoliths (ear bones) collected from fish sampled primarily in the commercial and recreational fisheries. Otoliths are mounted in epoxy resin, thin sections are cut using a diamond saw, and ages are determined under high magnification. Two readers independently age each otolith and when agreement is reached, the age, length, sex, and other sampling data are entered into a database. As of August 2013 more than 1,000 otoliths have been aged from southern and central California. The photos below show three of the best thin sectioned halibut otoliths we have aged, from top to bottom: a 7-year old female, a 9-year old female, and a 12-year old female, all sampled from the San Francisco Bay recreational fishery from 2012 to 2014. Most otoliths are not nearly as easy to read as these are.

Otolith section from 7-year-old California halibut. CDFW file photo.
Otolith section from 9-year-old California halibut. CDFW file photo.
Otolith section from 12-year-old California halibut. CDFW file photo.

Recruitment Studies

Relative Contribution of Local Recruitment to the San Francisco Bay California Halibut (Paralichthys californicus) Fishery Inside the Golden Gate (PDF)
by Max Fish, Bay-Delta Study, CDFW

Project Resources

Environmental Scientist Travis Tanaka with a California halibut captured during a research cruise. CDFW file photo.

Environmental Scientist Kristine Lesyna examines a California halibut. Photo credit: Angler James Garvey.

Halibut caught during Hooking Mortality Study. CDFW photo by Adrienne Vincent.

California halibut. Photo credit: CDFW/MARE

White Seabass

The white seabass (Atractoscion nobilis) is the largest member of the Sciaenid family found in California waters. In addition to being a popular sport fish, white seabass is also targeted by a commercial fishery. There have been commercial and recreational fisheries for white seabass in California since the 1890s. The fisheries occur primarily in Southern California but in some years may extend to central California. The commercial fisheries use primarily drift gill nets but some fish are taken on hook-and-line. The current sport angling record is a 78-pound fish caught in Monterey Bay on April 4, 2002 by David L. Sternberg. White seabass are also taken by divers. The current sport diving record is for a 93-pound, 4-ounce fish caught in Malibu on September 17, 2007 by Bill Ernst while freediving.

Species Identification

an elongated white and silver fish

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Sciaenidae
Genus: Atractoscion
Species: nobilis

The white seabass (Atractoscion nobilis) has an elongated body, large mouth, and a raised ridge along the length of its belly. It is grey-blue to copper on its back, with dark specks on its sides and a silver belly. It has a black spot on the inner base of its pectoral fins. Young white seabass have dark bars on the side. White seabass may be confused with the shortfin corvina (which has 1 or 2 large canine teeth on each side of the upper jaw) or the queenfish (which has a wider gap between the dorsal fins and more soft rays in its anal fin).

Maturity

CDFW staff are collecting white seabass from areas within the Southern California Bight during spawning season (March - September) from 2016 onward. A range of lengths will be targeted to obtain juvenile through adult size classes. Staff will calculate the following reproductive parameters for white seabass: gonadal somatic indices (GSI), length and age at which 100% of fish have reached maturity, fecundity and the reproductive potential of adults.

An improved dataset for white seabass EFI (reproductive parameters) will allow CDFW to evaluate the effectiveness of current size limits. The collection of this EFI will contribute to stock assessments and FMPs and generate reliable spawning biomass estimates.

Recreational

  • Ocean Sport Fishing
    Provides links to current Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations, California Code and Regulations, Title 14, regulation changes, closures, and more.

Commercial

  • Commercial Landing Totals
    All commercially caught fish landed within the State must be accurately documented. The CDFW maintains basic catch records of amounts and values of the various marine resources taken by California's commercial fisheries.
  • Commercial Ocean Fishing
    Provides links to the current Commercial Fishing Digest, California Code of Regulations, Title 14, license information, and more.
  • Fish Business Information
    The CDFW License and Revenue Branch provides excellent service to our customers by issuing licenses, permits, stamps and tags consistent with statutory and regulatory requirements, collecting revenue, and providing information to support the use and enjoyment of California's diverse natural resources and insure that they are available for future generations.

White Seabass Activities

The CDFW conducts an annual review of the white seabass fishery as required by the White Seabass Fishery Management Plan. The Northern and Central California Finfish Research and Management Project assists in sampling the recreational and commercial fisheries in Monterey Bay as needed. Project staff also convene an annual meeting of white seabass fishery stakeholders and produce an annual report (A Summary of Information: White Seabass Fishery and Sampling Programs as related to the Annual Review of the White Seabass Fishery Management Plan) for the Fish and Game Commission.

  • Annual Reviews of White Seabass Fishery Management
    Each year the White Seabass Scientific and Constituent Advisory Panel meets to consider if current management measures are providing adequate protection for the white seabass resource. Annual reviews are conducted so that any changes in management, or to the White Seabass Fishery Management Plan, can be considered by the Commission in accordance with the requirements of the Marine Life Management Act. The Advisory Panel meets with CDFW each spring.
  • Nearshore and Bay Management Project (NBMP)
    NBMP staff coordinate the activities of the Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program (OREHP) which is involved in the experimental culture and release of white seabass for fishery enhancement purposes.

Project Resources

  • Annual Status of the Fisheries Reports (2006)
    The Marine Life Management Act (MLMA) of 1998 mandated that California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) review at least one quarter of state-managed marine fisheries annually with focus on species that are the subject of a directed recreational or commercial fishery. The report contains a history of the fishery, status of biological knowledge, the status of the population, management considerations, and references to more white seabass information.
  • link opens in new windowWhite Seabass (PDF)
    Excerpt from Review of Selected California Fisheries for 2005: Coastal Pelagic Finfish, Market Squid, Dungeness Crab, Sea Urchin, Abalone, Kellet's Whelk, Groundfish, Highly Migratory, Species, Ocean Salmon, Nearshore Live Fish, Pacific Herring, and White Seabass, M. Connell, author. 2006 CalCOFI Report, Volume 47, pgs. 27-29
  • link opens in new windowWhite Seabass (PDF)
    Excerpt from Review of Selected California Fisheries for 2008: Coastal Pelagic Finfish, Market Squid, Ocean Salmon, Groundfish, California Spiny Lobster, Spot Prawn, White Seabass, Kelp Bass, Thresher Shark, Skates and Rays, Kellet's Whelk and Sea Cucumber, V. Taylor, author, 2009 CalCOFI Report, Volume 50, pgs. 27-30
  • link opens in new windowWhite Seabass Brochure (PDF)
    This brochure provides a summary of information about white seabass including fishing, identification, life history, and management.
  • White Seabass Fishery Management Plan
    Concern over the decline in white seabass landings and conflict between recreational and commercial fishermen over this resource from the mid- to late-1900s resulted in legislation requiring the development of the White Seabass Fishery Management Plan. The plan was developed in 1995 and adopted by the Fish and Game Commission in 1996. However, regulations to implement the plan were not adopted at that time. The CDFW revised the plan in accordance with the Marine Life Management Act and submitted it to the Commission, which adopted it on April 4, 2002.

A school of white seabass

A young angler standing on a boat with several white seabass on the deck

A commercial fisherman with many white seabass on the deck of his boat

Kelp Bass

Species Identification

The kelp bass (Paralabrax clathratus), also known as calico bass, is characterized by its similarity to a freshwater largemouth bass. Its third and fourth dorsal spines are of equal length, and are approximately twice the length of the second dorsal spine. The upper part of the head is brownish-olive with random yellow spots, and the upper back is mottled with characteristic white blotches on a brown background. The fins have a yellowish coloration. Breeding males have an orange-colored chin.

There are two rows of the characteristic rectangular white blotches on the back. The bass is easily differentiated from other members of the bass family by these white blotches. Sometimes these bass are confused with yellowtail rockfish or olive rockfish. Rockfish have spines on the operculum (cheek) which are not present on kelp bass.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Serranidae
Genus: Paralabrax
Species: clathratus

Kelp Bass

Studies

Staff are currently working on three projects that will help inform and evaluate the kelp bass stock and fishery: 1) staff are developing a Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) for kelp bass; 2) staff collect data on the sizes, numbers, and disposition of kelp bass released after being caught; 3) staff are ageing kelp bass otoliths and; 4) staff are determining reproductive parameters for kelp bass. Data collected by these studies will provide valuable essential fishery information and estimates of relative abundance and biomass of kelp bass in future years. For more information about kelp bass, including its life history and fishery, please read the Enhanced Status Report.

Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE)

Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) simulates the performance of a fishery several years into the future under various scenarios, while testing a multitude of alternative management procedures against a set of performance metrics, and evaluates the tradeoffs. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has been working with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on developing an MSE for kelp bass to aid in the analysis and selection of the most appropriate management strategy for this fishery. Once completed, it will be made available as an attachment to the kelp bass Enhanced Status Report (ESR).

Bass Discards (see barred sand bass)

Age and Growth

The age of many fish can be determined by analysis of their otoliths. Otoliths are hard structures located in the inner ear that grow as the fish grows by adding layers of calcium carbonate. The addition of layers is affected by seasonal changes in growth rate so that calcium carbonate rings may form annually and can be counted similar to tree rings. By counting the rings on the otoliths we can estimate the ages of kelp bass. Since 2013 we have collected 1,208 otoliths from kelp bass in the Southern California Bight, and the data are currently being analyzed.

While examining otoliths is a common ageing technique in fish, no one has ever validated that the ring pattern is annual across size classes in kelp bass. To examine this, we kept kelp bass of several size classes in captivity for at least one year. Shortly upon capture they were injected with a chemical marker, oxytetracycline (OTC), into the musculature that will be naturally incorporated into the otoliths. After a year, otoliths were removed and the periodicity of the ring pattern was evaluated.

Preliminary Results

A total of 1,137 kelp bass were assigned ages: 525 were female (190 mm – 575 mm); 451 were male (204 mm – 520 mm); and 161 were of unknown sex (84 mm- 540 mm), either due to immature gonads or missing samples. The maximum age was 20 years and belonged to three females (461-575 mm). The maximum age assigned to a male was 18 years (518 mm). This is younger than the oldest kelp bass aged in a previous study at 33 years (Love et al. 1996).

The VonBertalanffy Growth Model (VBGM) was found to be the best fit for all sexes combined. No significant differences were found between the VBGM with sexes combined and the male and female specific VBGM parameters. Although a significant difference in growth was seen between island and mainland locations, with kelp bass from islands appearing to grow faster. Based on the VBGM with all sexes combined a legal sized 14 inch kelp bass is estimated to be 7 years old and 1.2 pounds.

An edge analysis of otoliths indicated seasonal band formation and that kelp bass grow the fastest during summer months. This is indicated by the higher proportion of translucent edges in winter months, and greater opaque edges in the summer.

Reproduction

Spawning Frequency

If a female has recently spawned, postovulatory follicles will be present in the ovaries. When we know what proportion of females have postovulatory follicles, we can estimate spawning frequency. In a previous study conducted 25 years ago over a brief portion of the spawning season, a small sample size indicated that female kelp bass spawn approximately every two and a half days. In 2013, we examined the current spawning frequency exhibited by kelp bass over the course of the entire spawning season.

Spawning Periodicity

Fish spawning is triggered by environmental cues. In marine environments, common cues include lunar and/or tidal flux. These cues are important for species to successfully reproduce and may indicate the best times for survival of fertilized eggs and larvae. Kelp bass may experience other environmental cues such as increased day length or increased temperature that drive them to form spawning aggregations, but there may be additional, closely related environmental cues throughout the spawning season that trigger spawning pulses. Understanding which cues trigger spawning in kelp bass is important for understanding how and why reproductive potential sometimes varies from year to year.

Reproductive hormones fluctuate with respect to environmental cues and may peak during spawning pulses. With support from the Reproductive Biology Lab run by Dr. Kelly Young at California State University Long Beach, we used enzyme immunoassays to measure the concentration of estradiol in the blood plasma collected from kelp bass over the course of a spawning season to estimate spawning periodicity.

We are also looking at how hormone concentrations relate to fish size, gonad size and the presence or absence of post-ovulatory follicles produced by females following spawning events.

organic shapes
Example of a histological section of a bass ovary showing a post ovulatory follicle (POF) surrounded by oocytes in various stages of development (Photo: CDFW)

Batch Fecundity

Kelp bass are serial spawners, meaning they may spawn many times over the course of a spawning season. As in other serial spawners, kelp bass ovaries contain eggs at several different stages of development; however, only the hydrated eggs will be spawned.

Batch fecundity refers to the number of eggs released in one spawning event. By determining the batch fecundity for several individuals over a wide size range, we can develop a batch fecundity-size relationship which allows us to estimate the batch fecundity of females measured in the field. Batch fecundity will be an important parameter for estimating reproductive potential of kelp bass.

Staff will count the number of hydrated eggs in the ovaries to determine batch fecundity for individual fish.

organic shapes
Example of oocyte developmental stages in bass (Photo: CDFW)
A – Hydrated
B, C, D – Vitellogenic
E – Cortical alveolar
F – Primary growth

 

More information about kelp bass and its fishery can be found in the Kelp Bass Enhanced Status Report, located on CDFW's Marine Species Portal.

Barred Sand Bass

Species Identification

The barred sand bass (Paralabrax nebulifer), also known as sand bass, is characterized by its similarity to a freshwater largemouth bass. The body of the barred sand bass is rather elongate and compressed. The mouth is large and the lower jaw protrudes slightly. The color is gray to white on the back, white on the belly and there are dark vertical bars on the sides. Barred sand bass can be easily distinguished from kelp bass by the height of the third dorsal spine. In barred sand bass, this spine is the longest of the dorsal spines, while in the kelp bass, the third, fourth and fifth dorsal spines are of about equal length. Barred sand bass can be distinguished from spotted sand bass by the lack of spots on the body.

California Marine Sportfish Identification provides in-depth information for kelp bass and other sea basses.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Family: Serranidae
Genus: Paralabrax
Species: nebulifer

barred sand bass

Studies

Staff are currently working on three projects that will help inform and evaluate the barred sand bass stock and fishery: 1) staff are developing a Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) for barred sand bass; 2) staff collect data on the sizes, numbers, and disposition of barred sand bass released after being caught and; 3) staff are in the midst of a long-term monitoring program for barred sand bass that involve diver and video surveys at 10 indicator sites throughout Southern California. Data collected by these studies will provide valuable essential fishery information and estimates of the relative abundance and biomass of barred sand bass in future years. For more information about barred sand bass, including its life history and fishery, please read the Enhanced Status Report.

Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE)

Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) simulates the performance of a fishery several years into the future under various scenarios, while testing a multitude of alternative management procedures against a set of performance metrics, and evaluates the tradeoffs. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has been working with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on developing an MSE for barred sand bass to aid in the analysis and selection of the most appropriate management strategy for this fishery. Once completed, it will be made available as an attachment to the barred sand bass Enhanced Status Report (ESR).

Bass Discards

CDFW biologists are conducting regular sampling on board Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessels (CPFVs) to measure lengths and record the disposition of released basses (kelp bass and barred sand bass) from various locations throughout the Southern California Bight. The overall goal of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of the kelp bass and barred sand bass regulations that became effective on March 1, 2013.

Although discard sampling is a component of the California Recreational Fisheries Survey (CRFS), species prohibited from take and species with harvest guidelines are the priority species for CRFS discard sampling. Therefore, we augment the CRFS sampling effort through increased project monitoring of CPFV trips that are specifically targeting the basses.

The discard information provides an estimate of the actual percent reduction of catch realized by implementation of the new minimum size limit and provides information on the strength of the following year's fishery recruits. Between 2013 and the start of 2020 there have been 394 CPFV trips sampled with 1,630 barred sand bass and 12,091 kelp bass measured. The average total length of kelp bass discarded has increased since the start of the study; in 2013 it was 11.64 inches and has grown to 12.09 inches in 2019. However, this trend was not observed for barred sand bass with the average size of discards decreasing from 12.62 inches in 2013 to 12.34 inches in 2019. Twenty-three percent of discarded barred sand bass showed signs of barotrauma with 0.4% observed mortality, while kelp bass had 11% and 1.2% respectively. The percentage of kelp bass kept has nearly doubled from 2013 to 2019 (11% to 21%). The percentage of barred sand bass kept has remained about the same during this same time period (around 64%).

Diver and Video Surveys

Fishery-independent datasets provide critical information for the management of many species; however, there is a lack of this information for barred sand bass in Southern California. Although some historical datasets exist, such as powerplant monitoring records of fish impingement, these have recently been phased out. Many entities run surveys of fish abundance on the slope of local rocky reefs, however barred sand bass are more common along the ecotone (reef-sand interface) of artificial reefs. Because of this, CDFWstaff have initiated a long-term monitoring study to create a fishery-independent index of abundance for barred sand bass. While underwater visual census (UVC) using SCUBA has been the most common non-extractive technique used in reef fish surveys, baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs) also show promise for surveying carnivorous species in deeper, low visibility environments.

Starting in 2017, CDFW staff conducted UVC and BRUV survey methods for quantifying the abundance of barred sand bass and other fishes at the sand/reef ecotone of inshore natural and artificial reefs in Southern California. Initially, six reefs at the Los Angeles Harbor Breakwater and Palos Verdes Peninsula area were sampled on a monthly basis. In 2019, the study was expanded to 10 sites that extend from the US-Mexico Border to Santa Monica Bay. In the future, survey data collected on an annual basis will contribute an important fishery-independent measure of abundance that will help inform management decisions regarding the health of the barred sand bass stock.

See results from 2017 and 2018 surveys (PDF). Surveys for 2020 were canceled due to safety restrictions for COVID-19.

BRUV Frame Diagram
Diagram of the Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) platform used in this study.

Still photo from Baited Remote Underwater Video
Still photo from Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV).

The Refugia Project

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Central California Marine Sport Fish Survey (Refugia Project) has collected both fishery-dependent and fishery-independent data on nearshore sport fish species along the central California coast since its inception in 1957 and continuing though 2006. Click the link below for more information.


Age and Growth Studies

Age, Growth, and Maturity of Kelp Greenling

Background

The kelp greenling (Hexagrammos decagrammus) inhabits nearshore kelp beds and rocky reefs to a depth of 150 feet. Partly due to their proximity to shore, they are highly sought after by anglers, spear fishermen, and commercial fishermen. According to link opens in new windowRecreational Fishery Information Network data, a total of 288,000 angler trips were expended by nearshore anglers targeting kelp greenling in 2008.

Despite their importance in the California recreational fishery, we have very little information regarding kelp greenling population dynamics. A 2006 greenling stock assessment was not accepted by management due to limited scientific data. Specifically, there was uncertainty regarding greenling age, growth, mortality rates and abundance estimates.

In 2007, CDFW initiated a study to more comprehensively determine age, growth, and maturity of kelp greenling by examining sectioned otoliths, small bones used to age fish, and gonads from a larger number of individuals over a wide size range and multiple locations.

Study Methods

Age and Growth

Kelp greenling were collected by spearfishing while diving and hook-and-line fishing from shore. Samples were collected from Carmel Bay and Fort Bragg. Fish total length, weight, sex, maturity state, gonad weight, and liver weight were recorded. Otoliths were removed and embedded in epoxy resin prior to sectioning. Sectioned otoliths were then mounted on glass slides and wet-sanded to enhance the resolution of growth zones. Otoliths develop these growth zones as the fish ages, much like growth rings visible in the cross section of a tree trunk. Polished otoliths were viewed under a dissecting microscope and the number of opaque bands (dark bands) counted to determine the fish's age.

Maturity and Reproduction

Digital photos were taken of testes and ovaries to document maturity and reproductive status. A maturity stage classification from 1 (immature) to 5 (resting) for male greenling and 1 (immature) to 4 (resting) for female greenling was determined for each fish.

Sampling locations where kelp greenling were collected from December 2007 to February 2009
Sampling locations where kelp greenling were collected from December 2007 to February 2009.
Sectioned kelp greenling otolith viewed under dissecting microscope
Sectioned kelp greenling otolith viewed under dissecting microscope.

Findings to Date

  • Since August 2007, project staff and volunteers have collected a total of 357 kelp greenling through monthly sampling.
    • 142 females from 126 - 411 mm total length (TL)
    • 215 males from 116 - 391 mm TL
  • An adequate number of male greenling over 20 cm TL have been collected. Therefore, divers are now concentrating effort on collecting females and smaller males (less than 20 cm TL).
  • No significant difference in length was found between left and right otoliths.
  • Project staff continue to mount, section, polish and read otoliths. Twenty otoliths have been sectioned and polished to date.
  • Maturity data collected by project staff indicate that kelp greenling spawn from September to January.
  • Age data analysis is currently underway. Stay tuned!

Age Validation of Cabezon and Kelp Greenling using Oxytetracycline

Updated June 30, 2011

Background

Otoliths, often called "ear bones", are inner ear sensory organs used in hearing and balance. In fish, these bony structures have proven useful in determining ages and growth rates. Ages are estimated by counting pairs of growth bands formed in the otoliths, comprised of one opaque and one translucent band, similar to counting the rings in a tree trunk.

Many studies assume that growth bands are laid annually. The validation of these ages, or confirmation that each pair of growth bands represents one year of growth, is a step often overlooked or considered unachievable in ageing studies. However, validation is necessary to ensure that banding patterns accurately and consistently reflect growth over time, and that age estimates are correct. This is important because knowledge of age and growth is integral to understanding life history, a major component of link opens in new windowessential fishery information (EFI) needed for sustainable management of our fisheries.

More EFI is needed for two nearshore fish species: the cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus) and the kelp greenling (Hexagrammos decagrammus). A 2006 stock assessment of kelp greenling was not accepted by management due to the lack of EFI regarding age, growth, mortality rates and abundance estimates. The CDFW is currently investigating the life history characteristics of kelp greenling, and age validation will be an important component of the study. Although information is available on cabezon age and growth, age validation is needed for this species as well.

Study Methods

In this study, we will attempt to validate the periodicity of growth band formation in cabezon and kelp greenling using a chemical marker. Live fish will be treated with oxytetracycline (OTC), an antibiotic which is readily incorporated into calcified tissues such as otoliths. The result will be a permanent mark in the otoliths at the time of tagging which is visible under fluorescent light. After one year, otoliths will be removed from marked fish and their growth bands read in relation to the fluorescent OTC band. A single pair of growth bands, formed after the addition of the OTC mark, will validate the method of ageing for each species.

Findings to Date

In April and July 2010, we collected 5 adult cabezon and 7 adult kelp greenling for age validation. Fish were held in tanks at Granite Canyon Marine Laboratories. Each fish was anesthetized then injected with a concentration of OTC based on the fish's weight. Although no cabezon lived past 11 months after treatment due to parasites or seawater issues, their otoliths are still useful in age validation. Kelp greenling that have survived for 1 year were ready for removal in July 2011. Otoliths will be removed and viewed for the OTC mark in the coming months. Stay tuned!

Cabezon that has been tagged and treated with OTC. Photo by Diane Haas.
Cabezon that has been tagged and treated with OTC. Photo by Diane Haas.

Cabezon that has been tagged and treated with OTC. Photo by Diane Haas.
Sectioned kelp greenling otolith under reflected light (no OTC mark). Opaque and translucent growth bands are visible. CDFW photo by Diane Haas.


Mark-Recapture Studies

Mark-Recapture Study of Nearshore Groundfishes at Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve

Background

In 1999, the California legislature passed the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) to help conserve biodiversity, protect habitat, and rebuild depleted fisheries. As part of the MLPA, in fall of 2007 a network of 29 marine protected areas (MPAs) was implemented along the central California coast between Pigeon Pt. and Pt. Conception. The MLPA calls for monitoring of selected areas to assist with adaptive management of the MPA network (see MLPA Master Plan).

Many of the central coast MPAs are currently being monitored or have been studied in the past; however, few data exist for the Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve (Pinnacles). The purpose of this study is to collect baseline information on fish populations within Pinnacles and monitor changes over time to help evaluate the MPA's effectiveness. Located offshore at the north end of Carmel Bay, the site is characterized by high rocky relief areas, which form pinnacles separated by sand channels. While many of the newly adopted central coast MPAs have various levels of rocky habitat, few if any have as high a degree of variability as the Pinnacles site.

Sampling areas (red boxes) and bottom topography at Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve and Carmel Point. Rough areas represent higher relief and rocky habitat.
Sampling areas (red boxes) and bottom topography at Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve and Carmel Point. Rough areas represent higher relief and rocky habitat.

Study Methods

From 2008 to 2010, data on nearshore groundfish abundances, sizes, catch rates, and movements inside this MPA and in a nearby reference site at Carmel Point were collected by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) staff using mark and recapture (tagging) methods. Sampling was conducted during summer through early fall each year; typically July through September. Groundfish species of interest included lingcod, cabezon, kelp greenling and rockfish. Following capture, fish were measured, tagged and released.

Hook-and-line: Local sportfishing charter boats and a Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary research vessel were used to help catch and tag fish using rod and reel (hook-and-line) at Pinnacles and Carmel Point. Fishing occurred within two 500m x 500m grid cells at each site.

To engage the public as participants in the study, flyers were posted at boat ramps, tackle shops, and online to recruit experienced volunteer anglers to help catch fish. Three gear types were used equally to catch fish: shrimp flies, shrimp flies with bait, and bar jigs with a shrimp fly teaser. To reduce mortality, fishing was limited to depths less than 120 feet; similar depths were fished at both sites. Following capture, fish were measured, tagged, and released. Fish exhibiting excessive trauma or fish that were less than 20 cm total length were released without being tagged.

Shrimp fly and bar-jig gear used for hook-and-line sampling. CDFW photo by Scot Lucas.
Shrimp fly and bar-jig gear used for hook-and-line sampling. CDFW photo by Scot Lucas.

Trap: Commercial trap gear was used to catch bottom associated species. Trapping occurred within the same grid cells as above, but during different weeks than the hook-and-line fishing. Two sets of between 10 and 12 traps were fished in each of the four grid cells each of three months, during summer and early fall. Squid was used as bait and traps were pulled after soaking for about one hour (see photo below). To reduce mortality and facilitate trap retrieval, trapping was limited to depths less than 75 feet; similar depths were fished at both sites. Following capture, fish were measured, tagged, and released.

Commercial trap gear used to sample bottom associated species. CDFW photo by Diane Haas.
Commercial trap gear used to sample bottom associated species. CDFW photo by Diane Haas.

Findings to Date

Catch and species composition

Over three sampling years, a total of 87 volunteer anglers using hook-and-line gear caught 3,449 fish, 2,878 of which were tagged. The catch was comprised of 18 different species. Overall, more fish were caught outside the MPA than were caught inside, although fish were typically larger inside the MPA. Black, blue, canary, copper, olive, vermilion and yellowtail rockfish were caught more frequently at Carmel Point, while gopher, china and kelp rockfish were more common at Pinnacles. All other species were caught in similar numbers or were too few in number to report on. Blue, gopher and olive rockfish were the most common fishes caught both inside and outside of the MPA.

To complement hook-and-line sampling, a total 745 traps were deployed yielding 1,237 caught fish, 1,156 of which were tagged over the three years. Twelve species were represented in the catch. Gopher rockfish, china rockfish, and cabezon were the most common species trapped at Pinnacles, while gopher rockfish, black-and-yellow rockfish and kelp greenling were the most common fish trapped at Carmel Point. Gopher rockfish was overwhelmingly the dominant fish caught at both sites making up 74% and 80% of the catch at Carmel Point and Pinnacles respectively, over the three year period. More fish were trapped inside the MPA than outside the MPA, and fish inside the MPA were typically larger than those caught at the reference site.

Species composition of fish caught by site and gear type in 2008-2010


Pinnacles Hook-and-Line


Pinnacles Trap


Carmel Hook-and-Line


Carmel Trap

Fish abundance

Relative abundance of individual fish species at each site was calculated as catch per unit of effort (CPUE). CPUE is listed in the tables below as the average number of fish caught per "angler-hour" (number of anglers multiplied by number of hours fished) for hook-and-line fishing, and as the average number of fish caught per "trap-hour" (number of traps multiplied by number of hours soaked) for trap fishing. These baseline relative abundances will be important in looking at trends in catch rates over time.

CPUE for hook-and-line and trap gear

Note: Dashes (--) indicate no fish were caught for that species.


2008


2009


2010


All Years


All Species Combined

Fish lengths

Mean total lengths for 11 of the 14 most frequently caught species (gear types combined by site and year) were larger at Pinnacles than at Carmel Point in 2010. This is an increase in number of species from 2008, in which 8 of 14 common species were larger at Pinnacles than at Carmel Point. One species, canary rockfish, was common at Carmel Point but not caught at Pinnacles at all in the three years. Another species, black rockfish, was common at Carmel Point in 2008 but only one was caught at this site in 2010. Black rockfish were either rare (2008) or not encountered (2009, 2010) at Pinnacles over this period.

The smallest groundfish caught using hook-and-line were blue rockfish and yellowtail rockfish at 13 cm, and the largest was a 75 cm lingcod. For trap gear, the smallest groundfish caught was a 17 cm gopher rockfish and the largest was a 74 cm lingcod.

Average Total Length of Common Fish Caught Using Hook-and-Line and Trap Gear combined at Carmel Pinnacles SMR (MPA) and Carmel Pt (REF) from 2008-2010

Average Total Length of Common Fish Caught

Information about the amount of mature-sized fish in a community is an important indicator of the overall health and stability of a population. Preliminary data from this study indicate that both black and yellowtail rockfish average total lengths were much smaller than the recognized length at 50% maturity, regardless of site. To a lesser extent, blue, copper, olive and vermilion rockfish average lengths, as well as lingcod, were also under the recognized length at 50% maturity for these species at both sites. All other species had average total lengths above the recognized size at 50% maturity.

Tag recaptures

To date, 59 tagged fish have been recaptured and released during CDFW sampling days; 20 tagged fish have been recaptured by the public (recreational/commercial fishermen and recreational divers); and 24 tagged fish have been visually "recaptured" by CDFW staff during scuba surveys (see photos below). One cabezon has been recaptured twice. So far, all fish have been recaptured in the same general area where they were originally tagged.

Tagged cabezon at Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve, January 2009. Photo by Clinton Bauder.
Tagged cabezon at Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve, January 2009. Photo by Clinton Bauder.

Tagged gopher rockfish at Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve, January 2009. Photo by Jim Van Gogh.
Tagged gopher rockfish at Carmel Pinnacles State Marine Reserve, January 2009. Photo by Jim Van Gogh.

What to do if you catch a tagged fish

Each tag has a unique ID number and a CDFW phone number for anglers to call when they catch a tagged fish. Anglers are asked to provide the following information when reporting a tagged fish:

  • tag number
  • date caught
  • general location or GPS coordinates
  • total length (estimated or measured)
  • any additional information

Other Studies

Several non-CDFW studies are currently being conducted within the Carmel Bay area as well. One particular study by Rick Starr at Moss Landing Marine Laboratory also collects data on fishes using similar methods at Pt. Lobos State Marine Reserve (SMR). Closed to all fishing since 1973, data collected at Pt. Lobos SMR will provide a useful gauge with which to compare the nearby Pinnacles site as it is monitored over time.

More information can be found on the link opens in new windowSanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network website.

Trapping and Mark-Recapture of Nearshore Fishes in Carmel Bay

Updated June 30, 2011

Background

Project logo

The sustainable management of marine fisheries requires basic information about the biology and harvest of fish species. This may include information on life history (e.g. age, growth, and reproduction), habitat requirements, and fishery trends. Collectively, this body of biological, ecological, and socioeconomic information is known as link opens in new windowessential fishery information (EFI), which is used in the development of fishery management plans (FMPs).

Under the Marine Life Management Act, the CDFW is required to create FMPs that will form the primary basis for managing California's marine fisheries. Kelp greenling (Hexagrammos decagrammus) and cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus) are two of the 19 finfish species in the CDFW's Nearshore Fishery Management Plan. Both species inhabit nearshore kelp beds and rocky reefs, and are highly sought after by both recreational and commercial fishermen. Recent reviews in California have listed these species, as well as several other nearshore species, as lacking EFI. Current knowledge on kelp greenling and cabezon population biology is limited, especially regarding abundance and mortality.

Study Methods

From 2008 to 2010, a trapping study was conducted to capture, tag, and recapture fishes to collect missing EFI for kelp greenling, cabezon, and other important nearshore fishes at two sites around Carmel Bay. These sites were located in both fished and protected areas. Information collected includes species composition, catch per unit of effort (CPUE), size, and movement of nearshore groundfishes. This study will augment data used by other projects and will be valuable for management and future stock assessments.

Fish trapping:

Two sites were sampled: Lingcod Reef off of Pescadero Point and Point Lobos State Marine Reserve (SMR). Traps were deployed each year during summer months, typically July through September. Each site consisted of four 250 x 500 m grid cells.

At each site, grid cells were randomly selected to sample over a three day period. In each selected grid cell, three sets of 12-15 traps were deployed daily. One set was attempted in each of three depths per day: less than 30 ft., 31-60 ft., and 61-90 ft. Each trap was baited with chopped squid, deployed 10 to 20 meters apart, and soaked for about one hour. Captured fish were measured, weighed, tagged, and released.

T-bar anchor tag in cabezon, CDFW photo by Diane Haas
T-bar anchor tag in cabezon
Tagging a black-and-yellow rockfish, CDFW photo by Diane Haas
Tagging a black-and-yellow rockfish
Black-and-yellow rockfish recently recaptured after 267 days at liberty, CDFW photo by Diane Haas
Black-and-yellow rockfish recently
recaptured after 267 days at liberty

Findings to Date

Catch and effort
  • 2,272 traps deployed over 60 days of sampling
  • 1,673 fish from 16 species captured and tagged
  • Average CPUE = 0.73 fish/trap hour
    • Overall, CPUE was greater at Point Lobos (0.76 fish/trap hour) than at Lingcod Reef (0.70 fish/trap hour)
  • The most abundant species caught were:
    • Gopher rockfish (Sebastes carnatus)
    • Black-and-yellow rockfish (Sebastes chrysomelas)
    • Kelp greenling
    • Cabezon
  • A wide size-range of fish were caught:
    • Smallest: 124 mm TL striped surfperch (Embiotoca lateralis)
    • Largest: 1,150 mm TL wolf-eel (Anarrichthys ocellatus)
Effects of sites and depths
  • CPUE varied by site, depth, and species
    • Gopher rockfish had greater CPUE at Point Lobos SMR
    • Cabezon had greater CPUE at Lingcod Reef
  • Fish were larger at Point Lobos, particularly black-and-yellow and gopher rockfish
  • More species were captured at Lingcod Reef than at Point Lobos SMR each year
  • In all years combined, 16 species were found at Lingcod Reef while 11 species were found at Point Lobos SMR.

Catch per unit effort (CPUE) for the six of the most abundant species by site
Catch per unit effort (CPUE) for four of the most abundant species by site and year.

Recaptures
  • To date, 46 fish have been recaptured (~3% recapture rate)
  • Recapture species include black-and-yellow rockfish, gopher rockfish, cabezon, kelp greenling, and lingcod
  • Fish made gross movements of 3 to 270 m from tagging site
  • Fish were recaptured from 22 to 1,014 days after original capture
  • Nine tagged fish have been re-sighted during scuba surveys

Map of Carmel Bay showing grid cells at Lingcod Reef and Point Lobos sampling sites
Map of Carmel Bay showing grid cells at Lingcod Reef and Point Lobos SMR sampling sites. Recaptured fish start and end points are shown in green.

Overall, trapping efforts were successful in collecting cabezon, greenling, and other nearshore species of interest. The species composition, CPUE and recapture rate of fishes collected during this study were comparable to those found in other nearshore trap studies. The information collected during this study will provide a basis of comparison for future studies. Stay tuned for more information!

What to do if you catch a tagged fish

Each tag has a unique ID number and a CDFW phone number for anglers to call when they catch a tagged fish. Anglers are asked to provide the following information when reporting a tagged fish:

  • tag number
  • date caught
  • general location or GPS coordinates
  • total length (estimated or measured)
  • any additional information