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Wednesday, December 12 , 2018, 4:44 pm | Fair 61º


Captain’s Log: Fishing Ban Lifted, Seafood Deemed Safe in Wake of Refugio Oil Spill

With the Refugio oil spill emergency fishing closure lifted, we can get back to catching beautiful white seabass like this one and enjoying fresh, healthy seafood.
With the Refugio oil spill emergency fishing closure lifted, we can get back to catching beautiful white seabass like this one and enjoying fresh, healthy seafood. (Capt. Tiffany Vague photo)

We needed some good news, and we got some great news. The California Department of Fish & Wildlife lifted the post-Refugio oil spill emergency fishing closure in Santa Barbara County on Monday, following official notification from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment that there is no longer a human health threat present in finfish and shellfish from oil chemicals in the incident.

Now we can get back to fishing, both recreationally and commercially in the 138-square-mile area from Canada de Alegeria (between Gaviota and Hollister Ranch) at the western edge to near Coal Oil Point at the eastern edge. Marine protected areas in this area remain in effect, but the rest of the area is again open to fishing.

“We are so glad to announce some good news that is a step towards recovering from this tragic oil spill,” said Charlton Bonham, CDFW director. “Fishing may resume!”

It was quite a process that our agencies went through to determine that our seafood is safe. Scientists from OEHHA and CDFW, with the assistance of local commercial fishermen, collected a broader range of finfish, shellfish, kelp and invertebrates to evaluate the exposure of these fisheries to oil chemicals. Finfish species sampled included sand dab, barred surf perch, kelp rockfish, black and yellow rockfish, vermillion rockfish, bocaccio rockfish, grass rockfish and mackerel. Invertebrates sampled included red sea urchin, mussels, warty sea cucumber, giant red cucumber, brown rock crab, yellow rock crab, sheep crab, ridgeback prawn and spiny lobster.

OEHHA worked with laboratories to turn sample results around as quickly as possible. Recreational angling and commercial fishing leadership in the Santa Barbara area asked CDFW for the broader sampling and faster turnaround on results.

“Getting sustainable Santa Barbara seafood back in the market was important,” said Thomas Cullen, administrator for the Office of Spill Prevention and Response. “Combined with the reopening of El Capitan State Beach, this is great news for the Santa Barbara area.”

While fishing may resume, OEHHA reminds the public that the annual quarantine of sport-harvesting mussels is currently in effect to protect the public from paralytic shellfish poisoning and domoic acid poisoning. This is an annual closure, having nothing to do with the oil spill, but the timing this year is beneficial.

Ending the emergency fishing closure is timed well, and the angling public appreciates the diligent and rapid work by our agencies to make sure our seafood is safe and to get that huge area open to us. Squid spawns are occurring and the quality of fishing in that area is so good that there are few California coastal areas that can compete.

For one thing, fisherfolk who target truly big white seabass prefer this area to spots at the Channel Islands. That happy situation is due to the white seabass hatchery/rearing/releasing program that anglers supported for so many years. Many of those fish are now big adults and they grew up on the coast so they stay on the coast. Other fishing options in that area include halibut, yellowtail, lingcod and rockfish. Surf fishers like that area for halibut, surf perch, cabezon and rockfish.

We needed this emergency closure to end before our busy fishing season ended.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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