Saltwater Basses Fishery Information

Staff completed an analysis of the bass fisheries (kelp bass, barred sand bass, and spotted sand bass) and presented their findings on January 18, 2012 at the public meeting of the Marine Resources Committee (a sub-committee of the Fish and Game Commission) in Santa Barbara.

At the following Fish and Game Commission meeting, the Commission directed CDFW to prepare a regulatory package for the basses.

In addition to the Committee presentation and regulatory package, CDFW biologists compiled an in-depth and historical review of the saltwater bass fishery, including an analysis of the factors influencing recent catch declines. The manuscript (PDF) was published in 2014.

We examined regulatory changes and several fishery-dependent and -independent time series to investigate historical influences on the fishery and causes of dramatic catch declines in recent years. The results reveal a complex relationship between harvest rules, fishery recruitment, giant kelp, ocean regimes, and fishing.

Recent trends in larval abundance and lengths of harvested fish suggest population recruitment failure occurred during the last oceanographic regime shift to cooler ocean temperatures, coincident with a peak in exploitation rates. These factors contributed to poor fishery recruitment, associated declines in catch per unit of effort, and a depressed population since the mid-2000s. Although long-standing regulations and periods of optimal environmental conditions appeared to have sustained the fishery, take restrictions were recommended to mitigate the effects of fishing pressure during unfavorable ocean conditions.

Regulation Changes

On November 7, 2012, the Fish and Game Commission adopted regulatory changes for the basses (kelp bass, barred sand bass, and spotted sand bass) to amend California Code of Regulations Title 14, sections 27.65 (b) and 28.30. The Commission adopted a minimum size limit increase from 12 inches to 14 inches, with a corresponding increase in the minimum alternate length from 8.5 inches to 10 inches, for all three basses. The minimum fillet length increased from 6.5 inches to 7.5 inches, and the fillet must still bear intact a one inch square patch of skin. In addition, the bag limit was reduced from 10 fish in combination to 5 fish in combination.

These regulations went into effect on March 1, 2013. CDFW biologists will be monitoring the effectiveness of the regulations over the next few years.

In accordance with the new saltwater bass fishing regulations, there was a minor change to the ocean whitefish fillet regulations. Previously, ocean whitefish were given the same minimum fillet length and one inch square patch of skin requirement to avoid confusion with the basses. Because there was no biological reason to increase the fillet length for ocean whitefish along with the basses, scientists chose to retain the 6.5 inch minimum fillet length for ocean whitefish but to require all skin to be left on the fillets so that there still could be no mistaking ocean whitefish fillets with those of one of the three bass species.

Saltwater Bass Discard Study

The overall goal of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of the newly implemented kelp bass and barred sand bass regulations that became effective on March 1, 2013.CDFW biologists will be conducting regular sampling on board Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessels (CPFVs) to measure lengths and record the release disposition of as many released barred sand bass and kelp bass as possible from various locations throughout the Southern California Bight. Spotted sand bass are not typically caught on CPFV trips because this species primarily inhabits bays and harbors.

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 will augment the CRFS sampling effort through increased Project monitoring of CPFV trips that are specifically targeting the basses.

We anticipate that several years of monitoring will be needed to track the effects of the new regulatory changes. The discard information should provide an estimate of the actual percent reduction of catch realized by implementation of the new minimum size limit and provide information on the strength of the following year's fishery recruits.