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November 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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California’s Giant Sea Bass — Friend or Food?

from the November, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

California giant sea bass

What price would you put on an encounter with one of these iconic California fish that can grow up to six feet (1.95m) long and weigh 500 pounds? Would you prefer that encounter to be underwater or at the fishmonger? We think we know the answer to that second part!

Ana Sofia Guerra has gone to war on behalf of California's giant sea bass. A graduate student at UC Santa Barbara's Dept. of Ecology, Evolution, and Biology, she reckons that divers will spend $2.3 million, compared to a catch worth of $212,600 to the fishing industry. Overall, says Guerra, California hosts 1.38 million dives/year, and the divers spend between $161 and $323 million. Yet few ever see one of these enormous fish, even though they often hang near kelp beds in depths accessible by sport divers.

She and other researchers, together with co-author Douglas MacCauley, recount in Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems that those millions represent divers' interest in paying for a charter expedition, with the chance to see these fish that are otherwise protected. Those caught accidentally are limited by number.

But this accidental catch happens so frequently that giant sea bass often end up on restaurant menus. Too often.

Just as researchers have determined that shark tourism is worth 17 times more than any shark fishery, or manta ray encounters are worth 28 times more than the sale of dead manta parts, giant sea bass encounters by divers should not be undervalued. Maybe it's times to eschew that choice at the dinner table.

"Fishing and ecotourism or wildlife viewing are not mutually exclusive activities," Guerra said. "The paper highlights ways to strategically maximize the value of giant sea bass to both."

PS: Ken Kurtis, who runs Reef Seekers in Los Angeles, wrote on October 15, "I saw an FB post today from Karen Norris (one of our divers -- so I know she only speaks the truth), who was out at the Avalon Underwater Park off Catalina on Saturday and who says they saw ... THIRTEEN ... Black Sea Bass (aka Giant Sea Bass) out around the 55-foot contour. This sounds like the same depth, so perhaps the same area, where we've been seeing them the past few weeks. But 13 of them, my oh my!!!!"

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