A collaboration of people, organizations and agencies who care about robust fisheries enjoyed a heartwarming moment Friday evening when they released thousands of juvenile white seabass into the ocean from the grow-out pens in Channel Islands Harbor at 8:30 p.m. April 17.
The Ocean Resource Enhancement Hatchery Program (OREHP) and California Department of Fish & Wildlife (DFW) are requiring all white seabass grow-out facilities along the SoCal coast and at Catalina Island to release their fish earlier than they normally would.
Because of the stay-at-home and social-distancing requirements, the hatchery program is operating with a skeleton crew and cannot respond to help if there is a problem with the fish, and cannot deliver food.
These fish were about a half-pound and measured 4 to 6 inches. Normally, fish are kept in the grow-out pens and carefully fed and protected until they are 8 to 10 inches, which gives them an even better chance to survive to reach breeding age.
Fish have tiny coded wires implanted in their heads, which shows them to be a hatchery fish. Anglers are encouraged to turn in the heads of white seabass they catch, so the heads can be scanned for tags. Most fishing landings will accept and keep the heads until Hubbs Sea World Research Institute staff or volunteers can make the drive and pick them up.
Our local hero, Frank Sullivan, who runs the program for Coast Conservation Association said, “As a result of these requirements we released our fish Friday at 8:30 p.m. to take advantage of the dark and the outgoing tide. We did not publicize this release as we have previous ones, because of the stay at home order. We didn’t want a crowd.
“The fish looked good at the release and I believe it was a very successful grow out.”
This allows volunteers a chance to relax until the next shipment arrives from the hatchery. At that time, the volunteer schedule gets busy again to feed the hungry little fry, keep the pens clean and predator-free.
From my perspective, the release was brilliantly planned and executed. There were very few people around and even more importantly, without much activity, there were very few pinnipeds swimming about to scarf up great quantities of the little fish.
By releasing them on an outgoing tide, they flushed quickly out of the harbor to make their way up and down the coast to grow to adults and make babies naturally at sea.
— 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.