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Fish Bulletin No. 9. Preliminary Investigation of The Purse Seine Industry of Southern California


In the last few years, the alleged destructive influence of the purse seine industry on the supply of fish in southern California waters has been much discussed among professional fishermen, as well as among other persons interested in our sea fisheries and their future. Articles to the effect that aliens were destroying the natural supply of fish in this region by means of purse seines have been published repeatedly in the newspapers. To quote from one of these articles: "For many of them [the purse seiners] nothing is more pleasing than to enrich themselves at our expense and risk." The most serious complaint against the purse seine fishermen is that, by killing small barracuda in enormous quantities, they are depleting this fish. Another serious complaint is that these men unsettle the market conditions by landing very large individual catches. There is a rather widespread opinion that purse seining for barracuda, white sea bass, and yellowtail should be prohibited in southern California. Even though it is evident that the complaints are based mainly on hearsay and only to a very little extent on personal and more or less systematic observations, they are too serious to be disregarded. In order to establish the most important facts of the "purse seine problem," the California Fish and Game Commission undertook a preliminary investigation. This was entrusted to me, as a member of the staff of the California State Fisheries Laboratory, and was begun in May, 1922. The present paper is the immediate result of this investigation. The special problems to be examined were as follows: 1. The present economic condition of the purse seine industry. 2. The importance of the purse seiners as a source of supply to canneries and fresh fish markets. 3. The effect of purse seine fishing on the natural supply of fish, with special regard to the barracuda. 4. The possibilities and results of prohibitive or restrictive legislation against the purse seiners. The field to be covered was very extensive and the time at my disposal, for several reasons, very limited. These circumstances, unfortunately, made it necessary to treat several phases of the subject in a very summary way; and others have had to be totally or almost entirely disregarded, for instance, the description of the purse seine boats and of the fishing operations, and problems bearing on the life history of the species involved. In order to study the fishing operations and the effect of purse seining on the natural supply of fish, I made several trips with different purse seine and gill net boats during six weeks in May and June, 1922. The rest of the time used for the investigation was spent mostly in analyzing the statistical data bearing on the purse seine problem which previously had been collected by the Fish and Game Commission. The intention was to analyze data covering a whole year, but lack of time made it necessary to confine the analysis to data extending over a period of six months. The period chosen was January 1 to July 1, 1922. The term "purse seine boat" has been used in the restricted sense commonly accepted in southern California; i. e., it refers to rather large boats, generally of between twenty-four and forty-two gross tons, furnished with turntables, on which the seine is piled, and purse seines of the type described in the appendix to this report. In the analysis, differentiation has been made between purse seine boats and "small boats." A further classification, according to gear, of the small boats, which, of course, would have been highly desirable, was not possible, since necessary data were lacking. The statistical data for the years preceding 1922 and used in this report are not based on the records published in the quarterly magazine, CALIFORNIA FISH AND GAME, but on revised, unpublished figures from the Commission's archives.

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