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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fish Bulletin 128. An Analysis of California's Albacore Fishery

  • Author(s): Clemens, Harold B
  • Craig, William L
  • et al.

The United States ranks with the world's foremost fish-producing nations, and California's tremendous fisheries head the list of states in both production and value. Albacore, Thunnus alalunga, are highly desirable to both sport and commercial fishermen, sharing honors with the state's three most important species.

Over the past 20 seasons (1942–1961), the commercial albacore fleet, plying azure waters from central Baja California to British Columbia, has landed 310,000 tons in California. This harvest brought an estimated $115 million to the fishermen, excluding its large additional value to those engaged in processing and distribution. Records for the 15-year, post-war period (1947–1961) show the southern California partyboat industry, which operates primarily between northern Baja California and Point Conception, California, has taken multitudes of recreation-seeking men, women, and children sportfishing for albacore. These enthusiasts boated more than 900 thousand "longfins" weighing nearly 7 thousand tons, which would have been worth over $2 million at prevailing commercial prices. In addition, anglers aboard private yachts and their bag of these highly prized tunas increased significantly, though we obtained no detailed records concerning such catches.

The wealth created by our fishery is shared by those associated directly with various albacore commercial and sportfishing industries, and by all of the state's residents through indirect monetary benefits. No one has been able to place a dollar sign on a person's well-being, so it is impossible to use that yardstick for measuring the windfall of healthful recreation gained by our citizens through sportfishing—we believe, however, it is priceless. Albacore are a renewable natural resource which, if used intelligently, can yield wealth and recreation year after year. Large annual catch fluctuations, however, characterize the fishery and confront commercial fishermen with an uncertain livelihood. This, in turn, affects our domestic economy, for when albacore are harvested in abundance, millions of dollars are injected into California's economic bloodstream; when few are caught, it is deprived. Understanding the mechanisms responsible for these fluctuations may lead to greater stability.

A chief objective of marine scientists at the California State Fisheries Laboratory is to focus an intensive effort toward obtaining information which will contribute to understanding the dynamics of the albacore population. Adequate catch statistics covering an extended time period are among the most important data needed for our inquiries. They provide a solid foundation upon which to plan and implement sound scientific investigation; they serve as basic background information to help develop and test various hypotheses which may lead to improving the fishery; and they are a prerequisite for studying such vitally important matters as changes in fishing locale, intensity, availability, abundance, etc.

This paper is concerned with results from these basic lines of inquiry, and we have included numerous charts revealing the most productive sport and commercial fishing areas each month for an extended period. These data are the key with which we can examine the oceanic environment and unlock additional albacore behavioral secrets.

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