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Fish Bulletin 122. The Kelp Bass (Paralabrax clathratus) and Its Fishery, 1947–1958


Kelp bass, often termed "bull" or "calico" bass depending upon size, are non-migratory natives of California and Baja California marine waters. Their geographic range extends from about Monterey Bay, California, to Magdalena Bay, Baja California, but few are encountered north of Point Conception or south of Abreojos. They are abundant at Guadalupe and San Benitos Islands and Point Eugenia. Girard first described the species, from San Diego, in 1854.

Kelp bass adults inhabit a wide bathymetric range from the surf zone to depths of 130 feet or more. Specimens of all sizes usually are distributed throughout the water column, and above and below any thermocline. Fishing is commonly conducted in and near kelp beds along mainland and island shores.

Kelp bass number among the top five species in the California sportboat fishery. Although, barracuda (Sphyraena argentea) , and collective members of the rockfish family (Sebastodes spp.), frequently outnumber kelp bass in the catch, from the standpoints of popularity, desirability and all-season availability, the bass is probably the preeminent species.

In 1947, veterans of the services and war-time industry began to exert unprecedented fishing pressure on fresh- and saltwater fishes. A population of large "bull" bass, accumulated during the war, absorbed much of the effort expended by the southern California saltwater angler. By 1950, most of the available "bull" bass had been caught, leaving a reduced population, individually smaller in size.

In 1949, sportfishing operations were being extended to remote off-shore banks at San Clemente Island, and new landings were established in areas relatively undeveloped at Oceanside and Paradise Cove.

It was obvious to all concerned (California Department of Fish and Game, the partyboat industry, and organized as well as unattached sportfishermen) that the fishery was deteriorating. Consequently, the department instituted a research program in 1950, designed to determine the status of the stocks and to provide a basis for sound regulation, if such was in fact warranted.

It soon became evident that restrictions would be necessary before we could complete our investigations, so in 1953 the sale of kelp bass was prohibited and a size limit of 10 ½ inches was imposed on sport-fishermen. The size limit was increased periodically until 1959 when it was stabilized at 12 inches, the level our investigation showed would be most beneficial.

Because of these steps the fishery is once again commencing to show prosperity. In 1961 and 1962, two and three years after the size limit was stabilized, southern California partyboats reported catches of 613,000 and 789,000 kelp and sand bass—comparing favorably with some of the better postwar years.

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