Angling to replenish their diminishing numbers, local nonprofit organization Santa Barbara Sea released 10,000 white sea bass into the open ocean at East Beach this past Saturday.
Santa Barbara Sea has released fish into local waters for the past 13 years. Organizational chairman Joe Carrillo said the group releases the fish into East Beach because the white sea bass population in waters from Point Conception to the Mexican border has fallen to one-tenth of its former numbers over the past few years. The decrease, Carrillo said, is primarily due to loss of the species’ habitat, pollution and improper fishing methods.
Carrillo said Santa Barbara Sea seeks to increase the population of white sea bass to the high hundreds of thousands in order to create a stable population.
“Our goal is to put ourselves out of business,” Carrillo said. “But with pollution the way it is, I do not see that in the near future.”
The sea bass are reared by volunteers who receive between 5,000 and 10,000 juveniles from Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute’s Ocean Resource Enhancement and Hatchery Program in Carlsbad, California. When the fish arrived in May, they measured about 4 inches long. The fingerlings were then placed in floating pens near Stearns Wharf, where they grew until they were 8 to 10 inches long. Once the fish had reached this point, they were released.
Additionally, OREHP tags the sea bass with a small stainless steel wire tag, which is encoded with the fish’s home facility and the date it was released. Carrillo said the fish are tagged in order to track their progress.
“Three fish of ours were recently caught and sold to a market in San Diego,” Carrillo said. “The internal coded wire tag read that we had released it 1994. This is an example of our success.”
Currently, regulations state that fishermen cannot catch sea bass until they reach 28 inches in length, and even then, each individual is only allowed to keep three, Carrillo said.
He also said that fishermen are requested to bring each captured sea bass to Sea Landing Sportfishing or Boaters World Marine Center for documentation. If the fish is the product of Santa Barbara Sea, the facilities will detect the encoded wire.
“Our program is meant to assist the wild population of white sea bass, not overtake it,” Carrillo said. “I believe it has been a beneficial influence on the population in [the region].”
Santa Barbara Surfrider Foundation chairman Scott Bull said he supports the effort of Santa Barbara Sea.
“Programs like these are the best way to have a natural recovery of a species,” Bull said.