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White Seabass Best Fishing Practices

In California white seabass are targeted extensively by a diverse and growing number of kayakers, freedivers, hook-and-line and gillnet fishers. Historically white seabass were predominantly harvested by commercial fisheries that targeted fish aggregations in the spring and summer months.

However, more recently the fishery has diversified considerably, with recreational landings now a significant component of the total harvest and in some years exceeding that of the commercial sector. While recreational fishers have appreciated outstanding fishing for increasingly large white seabass (40-60 lbs) in recent years, it is only through improved management to protect white seabass spawning stocks that the population structure has recovered from decades of record-low abundance in the 1980’s.

Regulations include time and area closures (i.e. closed commercial season-reduced recreational limit from March 15-June 15 and closure of coastal gillnet fishery inside 3 miles from the coastline) as well as size and bag restrictions enforced on recreational fishers.

A minimum size limit of 28 inches has been in effect since 1978, while bag limits have fluctuated over the years from 15 white seabass per angler per day in 1939 down to the current 3 adult fish/day, with just 1 fish/day in possession during a portion of the spawning season (March 15-June 15) south of Point Conception. Because fishery trends and white seabass population dynamics present considerable challenges for managers, stakeholders need to harvest the resource responsibly and abide by current fishery regulations.

Like many other species, white seabass are susceptible to incidental mortality following catch and release; thus the following recommendations may serve as some guidelines to reduce our impact on the rebuilding stock.

Best Handling Tips:

1. Abide by current sportfishing regulations

2. Move to a new location or stop fishing once limits have been achieved or if multiple juveniles are caught in an area, especially when fishing with bait

3. Use a knotless landing net and minimize handling time or keep the fish in the water prior to release

4. When releasing gut-hooked fish, survival is enhanced if the line is cut close to the hook rather than attempting to remove a deeply embedded hook

5. The use of artificial jigs, leadheads and circle hooks can reduce the incidence of deeply-hooking fish

6. Avoid persistently harvesting large females from spawning/feeding aggregations

7. Consider self-imposing boat limits or year-round 1 fish per person limits

Research and previous observations suggest that white seabass hooked in the gut or gills have a relatively low survival rate ( less than 35%) following catch and release. Mortality rates may be further elevated when fish are caught in deeper water, as swim bladders may rupture when fish are pulled up from depths greater than 12 fathoms. In addition, white seabass become easy prey for California sea lions while struggling on the line and following catch and release. Therefore, it is recommended that anglers make a move or stop fishing upon catching multiple sub-legal (less than 28 inch) white seabass or once a daily limit has been achieved.

Although white seabass are often an elusive species, they will at times become extremely vulnerable to harvest for days on end upon aggregating to feed and spawn. It is not uncommon for thousands of mature fish to be caught over a short time period from a relatively small area, particularly when they stack up on the squid spawning grounds. Because the cohort of increasingly large white seabass (40-60 lbs) has made it through the gauntlet of fishing pressure for 15+ years and are essential for repopulating the stock, it is in our best interest to avoid the persistent harvest of numerous large individuals from localized aggregations and to reduce incidental fishing mortality.

With foresight, responsible harvest and effective management we are hopeful that this resource will remain strong for generations to come.

Photo Credit: PIER and Jack Elliot’s Santa Barbara Adventure

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The Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research, PIER, is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization located in Oceanside, California. PIER is dedicated to the advancement of sustainable fisheries management and public education through applied field research. PIER was established in 1998 through the generosity of Mr. Tom Pfleger and the George T. Pfleger Foundation. Mr. Pfleger is an advocate of sustainable fisheries and actively participates in several of the ongoing studies at PIER.