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Environment and Energy

California's giant sea bass making a comeback after near extinction

Bill Bookout

UC Santa Barbara researchers are asking recreational divers to participate in a giant sea bass census this week. According to researchers these fish can grow to more than 600 pounds and are making a comeback from the brink of extinction.

The species, sometimes called black sea bass, were heavily fished around Catalina Island in the 1890s. Although they are making a comeback, no one really knows the size of their population. So UC Santa Barbara researchers are asking recreational divers and snorkelers to report sightings of giant sea bass up and down the California coast during a week when the fish are likely to be in shallow water.

Milton Love is an associate research biologist with UCSB’s Marine Science Institute and he wants the public’s help to determine the size of the population.

“So what this will give us is actually not the most accurate count of how many Giant Sea Bass there are in California, to do that there are some very specialized methodology, but it should give us the minimum number," said Love. "And once we have the minimum number you can start entertaining the idea that the population is healthy so it’s kind of a metric for how healthy is the population.”

Local diver, fishermen, and Pismo Beach Dive Shop owner, Bill Bookout, says the giant sea bass have already been spotted locally and he expects an influx of customers during this week.

“Oh yeah, we see them in the kelp beds out here—they’re gigantic," said Bookout. "In shell beach we have a couple kelp beds that are real good areas for the sea bass.”

Bookout says they have been over-fished and for awhile it was extremely rare to ever spot these creatures.

Love says their comeback is a step in the right direction towards improving the health of the oceans as well.

“Before these fish were caught/ were decimated, they were a major factor in the kelp beds of California. They dictated what lived there because they will eat anything they can get their mouths around," said Love. "So when you remove a major predator you really alter the community of animals, and if we want any hope of going back to a natural state you really have to have numbers of these animals come back.”

The UCSB researchers, together with Larry Allen’s lab at California State University Northridge, have formed the Giant Sea Bass Collective, which has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed (@GSBCollective). For divers and snorkelers interested in participating in the Great Giant Sea Bass Count, more detailed instructions can be found on Facebook.