Overfishing of white sea bass appears to be in check

Commercial and recreational fisheries aren’t close to meeting criteria for too many catches, which is good news for the fish species.

STATEWIDE—The quota for commercial and recreational fisheries of white sea bass was far from being met, meaning no immediate action is necessary to address the overfishing of a species once in danger of disappearing altogether.

Staff with California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife made a presentation of the current status of white sea bass at the June 13 Fish and Game Commission meeting. The quota of the white sea bass fishery for the 2017-18 season was set at 1.2 million pounds; the total catch of species by commercial fishers and anglers alike was 351,104 pounds, or 29 percent of the set quota.

The annual fishing season for white sea bass is Sept. 1 to Aug. 31 of the following year; data for the June 13 presentation was based on the white sea bass fishing season from Sept. 1, 2017 to Aug. 31, 2018. The 2018-19 white sea bass season is still running and ends in a few weeks.

Overfishing of the white sea bass fishery does not appear to be a concern at this time, based upon recent data. One of the criteria for overfishing of the species is whether there is a 20 percent decline in annual commercial landings, compared to the prior five-year running average of those same landings.

The landing total for 2016-2017 was 217,915 pounds, a 24 percent decrease, pegged against a five-year average of 285,687 pounds. Department of Fish and Wildlife staff reported the landing total for 2017-2018 was 221,909 pounds, a 10-percent decrease; the landing total was pegged against a five-year average of 247,921 pounds.

Department of Fish and Wildlife staff stated another criteria for overfishing: “A 20 percent decline in both the number of fish and the average weight of white sea bass caught in the recreational fishery for the same two consecutive seasons, as determined by the best available data.”

The recreational white sea bass numbers were as follows:

  • 2016-2017: 5,675 fish, 50 percent increase, with a 22.9-pound average (1 percent decrease)
  • 2017-2018: 4,874 fish, 14 percent decrease, with a 23.1-pound average (no change).

Neither criteria was met, according to Department of Fish and Wildlife staff, meaning the white sea bass fishery, at this present time, isn’t being overfished.

“There was an increasing trend in number of juvenile white sea bass caught per set from 2012 to 2015. However, this trend decreased during the 2016 survey and again in 2017,” Department of Fish and Wildlife staff stated in a report to Fish and Game Commission members. “The number of fish caught per gill net set was averaged from the years 2012 to 2016, and was compared to 2017. The catch per unit effort for juvenile white sea bass recruits for 2017 decreased by 17 percent from the previous five-year average.

“Based on the analysis of all three overfishing criteria, the [White Sea Bass Scientific and Constituent Advisory Panel] and the department agreed that the overall overfishing point of concern for the fishery was not met,” Department of Fish and Wildlife staff continued.

The White Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan was adopted by Fish and Game Commission members in June 2002 and mandates an annual monitoring and assessment of the fishery. Also created within the plan was the White Sea Bass Scientific and Constituent Advisory Panel, which reviews the fishery assessment, management proposals and plan amendments.

“The annual review includes fishery-dependent data (e.g., commercial and recreational landings and length frequencies), and fishery-independent data (e.g., recruitment information) if available, as well as documented changes within the social and economic structure of the recreational and commercial industries that utilize the white sea bass resource within California,” the Department of Fish and Wildlife report to Fish and Game Commission members stated. “The review also includes information on the harvest of white sea bass from Mexican waters and other relevant data.”

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