The Giant Sea Bass Challenge

Ken Jones

Staff member
Given the advances that have been made in how to successfully release deep sea fish (mainly rockfish), I wonder if people would have different advice on this topic today?

Date: February 28, 2003
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Paul Grunion
Subject: Giant Sea Bass Challenge

I know that many contributors to this site think that the DF&G ocean fishing regulations are confusing and could be written in a more straightforward manner. Here is a chance for you to test your skills in regulation writing.

Background: Since 1981, the recreational fishing take of giant sea bass has been prohibited. This came about because the commercial passenger fishing vessel (CPFV or party boat) catch had dwindled to almost nothing while there was still a trophy fishery by some individuals who had developed special techniques to target on fish in the 350 pound size. It was feared that the southern California spawning stock would be eliminated, and a recommendation was made to the Commission to prohibit sport take. There was still a coastal commercial gill net fishery that took giant sea bass incidentally to white seabass and halibut fishing and, since the fish often died in the net before recovery, the State Legislature reduced the allowed take to two fish per trip. This has since been reduced to one fish per tip and, since 1990, the boats must fish farther than three miles from shore, so few are taken.

Since the reduction in takes, there have been a few successful year classes, that is, good survival under oceanographic conditions favoring the survival of eggs and larvae that were produced by the remaining large fish. The first good year class, after the closure, was in 1984 and by 1990 those fish were showing up in the party boat catch as 10 to 15 pound fish in the kelp beds off rocky sections of the coast such as Laguna Beach and Malibu.

The resurgence of incidental fish in the sport fishery produced a dilemma because, while they were totally protected, giant sea bass taken in more than about 100 feet of water have distended air bladders that kept them from swimming down from the surface after release. The Department developed a method to relieve the air pressure by inserting a large gauge needle through the body wall, but it was found that a fungus and other contamination killed the fish in a few weeks even after they swam down. Techniques for pulling the fish down with weights and releasing them at about 30 feet are being developed by the Department and others, but they are not widely used, so some fish are potentially dying on the surface.

Since the early 90s, anglers have been asking if the DF&G would be opening the sport fishery again soon. The answer was “someday, if the numbers of fish in many age classes were abundant and a regulation was written that protected the spawning population”. The spirit of such a law would allow the take of fish, which suffered from bladder distention to such a degree, that they might die on the surface but not allow for targeting on brood stock.

So, here is the challenge: write a regulation that incorporates the following requirements:

1. Simply worded (at your request)

2. Easily understood (ditto)

3. Easily enforced or totally supported by all anglers so it is self-enforced (an ideal regulation)

4. Allows for the take of giant sea bass, which are taken incidentally to fishing for other rocky habitat coastal fishes such as white seabass and kelp bass.

9. Prohibits the targeting of brood stock.

10. Encourages the release of fish caught in shallow water, because they can easily swim back down

11. Does not contribute to the stress of 50 pound-plus fish by hauling them out of the water to be measured or weighed

12. Is developed using the “best science available”. This can be found at the DF&G website: [No longer available]

That’s it, have fun. If you come up with a regulation that meets all of the requirements, I will propose it to the Commission. Even though I am retired, they may listen to me, because I made the recommendation to prohibit take in 1980.

Because this might take you a bit of time, please post your contributions as new posts

If you want to understand my perspective, please read my profile. [No longer available]

Posted by baitfish

This is a very different fish, so it will require a different regulation.First thing is to require a slot limit.

Second is to require a stamp that includes a test and a kit. The stamp would cover the cost of the release kit and materials/incidentals only. The kit could be made by a contractor and the test would include a booklet that could be taken home. The booklet would contain information about how to properly handle the fish, along with how to release a distended fish especially how to tell if a fish will or will not live. The test could be taken online or at a DFG office, it is not fair for the retailers to have to pay employees to watch and correct a test, but you could probably certify certain locations who were willing. The test would have to be retaken every 2 years, and the cost would be less for a renewal if the angler still has a release kit. If a fish would not survive, they need to fill out a card that comes with the kit and give descriptions of why the fish would not have survived. The kit would also include a plastic ruler that extends to the maximum size of the slot limit, and has a easily read mark indicating the minimum size, all fish must be measured using this device, and all anglers who have the stamp, must have a complete kit with them if they have a Giant Sea Bass in possession.

The regulation would read something like this... Sport take of Giant Sea Bass is allowed after successfully completing the certificate requirements as well as purchasing a Giant Sea Bass stamp. Take is restricted to 1 fish per day within a slot limit of XX"-XX". The fish may only be netted if it fits within the slot limit or it must be released without being removed from the water.

If the fish is larger or smaller than the indicated slot size, the fish must be released according to the release methods indicated in the Giant Sea Bass handbook.

It's a little rough, but it's a start. Adam. I fish therefore I... spend too much money on gear.

Posted by prometheus

That would make black sea bass the most complex species of fish to target in California, and I don't think it would solve the bycatch problem since few people would buy the stamp. The big issue here is that fish are being wasted because of bycatch.

The regulation should probably state that:

#1 It is illegal to target giant sea bass.

#2 Fish must be less than 36" or so

#3 Oversized fish may not be landed.

#4 Limit 1

#5 Please note that GSB contain highly elevated levels of toxins...

Of course since Gov. Davis getting kickbacks from certain hook manufacturers, all new fishing regs come with the ubiquitous:

#6 When GSB are onboard, all hooks must be barbless circle hooks as provided for in blah blah blah...

The five serious rules allow for a boat to take several fish, so few limits should be taken unless the fish really rebound. Prohibiting the take of large fish and the specific targeting and landing of them will prevent them from becoming a trophy fishery.

Also suggesting that eating them may cause one's kids to have flippers will reduce people's motivation to eat them so that people will release fish that aren't gassy. Some combination of real/junk science can back this up as usual in politics.

The problem may also be moot, since bottom fishing past 27 fathoms will be banned for the rockfish. This will also protect the GSB that are in deep water (which is causing the high C&R mortality). I believe that 27 fathoms was selected for this purpose, to prevent exploding bocaccio. In that perspective, the bladder problem may simply go away.

I think the above meets the criteria; it's simple and provides some motivation for releasing the fish when possible.

Posted by kaleo on April 26, 2006

Tough one. Difficult to do a good job of hitting those criteria. But they're so slow to reproduce, I'm not at all sure that I would favor relaxing the regs on BSBs yet. Of course, this is coming from a guy who has never caught one, never seen one caught, nor even fished in an area where he might reasonably expect to see one (Monterey Bay doesn't count). Seems to me that the Black/Giant Sea Bass would make a very deserving California State Fish.

Posted by dompfa ben

I've caught a few in my time—mostly small (under 20 lbs.) I saw my friend pull in a 50 pounder on a kayak in 30 feet of water (successful CPR), and watched the crew of the Qualifier 105 release a fish over 100 lbs. that was caught shallow at Cedros Island.

Considering the increased numbers of juvenile fish caught in the last few years, and the occasional larger model found around the offshore islands, here is my opinion on the matter:

1. Keep them closed to fishing for a long, long time. They are a one-of-a-kind fish in our waters, like the garibaldi. Hundreds of years from now, when they become a "pest" fish that has decimated other fish populations with their voracious appetites and disproportionate biomass, THEN let's revisit opening them to fishing...and then via a "punch-card" system (that will probably be something more like a retinal scan or mnemonic nanoneuroimplant). Do I think these fish will ever become so common? Not in my lifetime.

2. Sink some R&D bucks into finding an effective, low-cost device or method to decompress these (and other) fish that are brought up from depths. Require all boats fishing at depth for species that require release to carry these devices, and use them in the event of such a fish being caught...just as there are requirements for boats to carry fire extinguishers and PFD's.

3. Ensure that existing and future commercial and sport regulations (i.e. those on depth, distance from shore, MPA's, etc.) do not inadvertently and/or disproportionately increase the probability that these fish will be included as bycatch, especially when release might be hampered by decompression.

4. Ensure that existing and future commercial and sport regulations for other targeted species allow for a variety of fishing options throughout the year at sustainable and practical levels, while ensuring that efforts are made to correct the CAUSES, not just place greater restrictions on the EFFECTS. Anyone who has been fishing saltwater in CA for less than 25 years has NEVER been able to fish for Black Sea Bass. You don't miss what you never had... but more recent closures and restrictions do affect entrants to California ocean fishing in a more measurable way. Anglers will have very different responses to "nothing to fish for" and "nothing you're allowed to fish for."

5. Efficient, effective enforcement.