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October 6, 2016

World’s Record Black Sea Bass, 425 lbs, Catalina Island, California,1903

Edward Llewellen with the World’s Record Black Sea Bass, which he caught, (425 lbs.), at Catalina Island, California, August 26, 1903.

(Photo by Charles Ironmonger/Library of Congress)

Giant sea bass were once a relatively common inhabitant of Southern California waters, yet in the 1980s, it was facing the threat of local extinction off the California coast. Beginning in the late 19th century, the species supported both a commercial fishery taking hundreds of thousands of pounds annually, and a sport fishery that also landed hundreds of fish each year.

Giant sea bass were also a popular “big game” quarry for both freediving and scuba spearfishermen. In the 1970s, spearfishing for this species was made illegal by the California Department of Fish and Game. One unfortunate incident precipitated this abrupt change in the law. Several freedivers had taken 7 fish at Santa Cruz Island. Unable to eat nearly a ton of fish, they sold the fish illegally to a fish market in San Pedro. Fish and Game wardens discovered that the fish had been speared by observing the holes and slip tips left behind in their bodies.

By the late 1970s, biologists with the California Department of Fish and Game, recognized that the local population of giant sea bass was in trouble. Actions were taken, resulting in protection from commercial and sport fishing that went into effect in 1982. As of 2004, it is suggested that the population size of Giant Sea Bass in California may be increasing as it is under protection; however, there is no hard data to support it. The total breeding population in California in 2018 is estimated to be around 500 individuals, of which 40 to 50 return to spawn around Catalina Island each year. Giant sea bass remain understudied in the Mexican portion of its range, although efforts are underway to monitor the population size, genetic connectivity, and fishing pressure along the Pacific coast of the Baja peninsula.


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