Monday, May 21 , 2018, 2:12 pm | Partly Cloudy 66º


Captain’s Log: Reel Rewards of Careful Fisheries Management

A sustainable approach has produced many success stories and made fishing as good as it's ever been

I’m compelled to share some experiences and insights on local fisheries management. We’ve had some good comments with questions regarding past columns, and well-intentioned people deserve good information and answers.

Capt. David Bacon
Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

First, please try to keep media hype and business war lingo where it belongs — in the rhetoric bucket. With the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative planning Marine Protected Areas along the coast, those who will benefit business-wise from MPAs (such as grant monies for researchers) and those who will suffer from them (grandpa taking kids fishing, commercial fishers who put dinner on our tables, and the industries that support fishing) are all making some pretty tall statements that might not always be able to stand unsupported.

Here’s something to think about. We have learned that about 80 percent of the fish (and other sealife) live in roughly 20 percent of the water. With that in mind, when MPA proponents claim they only want to close 15 percent to 20 percent of the area, it’s not a compromise that the other side of the table can live with. Furthermore, by closing a major portion of the productive areas, fishing pressure becomes heavily concentrated in the relatively few remaining good areas, which will is harmful. I urge you to read, do some free-thinking and then make your own decisions.

Now to the fish. We have some amazing fisheries management success stories, and I’ll name a few.

White seabass fishing is as good as I’ve ever seen it, and we can thank a mixture of careful fisheries management (seasons, bag limits, etc.) and man-years of volunteer work by the fishing community in rearing and releasing young fish. Halibut anglers are doing well both along the mainland coast and at the islands. The tasty flatfish are being managed better and are more plentiful. Calico bass are managed fairly well by fisheries managers, yet recreational fishers are taking volunteer steps to improve the fishery. Most anglers will take only a few (rather than the limit) calicos home, and there is a surprisingly large contingent of fishers who release all calicos except for the occasional one that is hooked too deeply to release.

Pelagic fish that venture this far northward into colder water are surprising us with good, prolonged bites. I haven’t seen bonito fishing this good since I was a kid. We’ve enjoyed seasonal catches of surprisingly large “boneheads” up to 15 pounds. Barracuda have spent the warm part of the year around the Channel Islands and throughout the eastern portion of the Santa Barbara Channel. Thresher sharks have shown up in good numbers.

We are blessed with the best groundfish (rockfish, lingcod, sheephead, sculpin, ocean whitefish and others) habitat and fish stocks in Southern California. We catch these fish at shallow spots along the coast and around the islands, and we fish for them as deep as 360 feet (the regulatory maximum depth limit). Fishing for these popular critters is the mainstay of our local fishing because they’re not seasonal. We can catch them all year, though there are regulatory seasons we abide by in order to maintain healthy and sustainable fish stocks. Different species prefer to live at different depths, so we can target certain species by fishing within their preferred depth range.

I’ve got a tasty assignment for those who wish to take it on. Go to a restaurant with a good cook and order red snapper (vermilion rockfish). I’m smacking my lips just thinking about it. You’ll soon discover why we determinedly fish deeper waters to catch these delicious critters. There are quite a few related species of rockfish that are generically referred to in restaurants and fish markets as “red snapper.” We catch the best of these species in waters from 200 to 360 feet of water, and it makes for a fun and rewarding day on the water with family and friends.

Another top-ranked groundfish (for both fighting and eating) is ling cod. This is a toothy and ornery fish, and it’s the only fish I nickname after dinosaurs. I call them “lingasaurs.” We manage them carefully, and our reward is the availability of one of the best-tasting fish in our local waters.

We have learned much about fisheries management, and we’re now managing healthy fish stocks for sustainability. Each time we identify a species that needs help, we create a specific plan to bring them back.

A great example is black seabass. An entire generation of anglers is willingly giving up keeping this prize fish so we can bring them back to abundance, allowing our kids to take their grandkids out to fish for them when the time comes. It’s a long project, but we’re in it to win it.

These are the good ol’ days of fishing because fishing is as good as I can remember, and I’ve been around a good, long while.

Traditional fisheries management is far superior to establishing closed-to-fishing areas. That’s not management. That’s a business war.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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