September 28, 2011
SoCal Bass Stocks Collapsing

Too much fishing off the coast of southern California.

The two most important recreational fisheries off Southern California have collapsed, according to a new study led by a researcher from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Scripps postdoctoral researcher Brad Erisman and his colleagues examined the health of regional populations of barred sand bass and kelp bass-staple catches of Southern California's recreational fishing fleet-by combining information from fishing records and other data on regional fish populations. Stocks of both species have collapsed due to a combination of overfishing of their breeding areas and changes in oceanographic conditions, the researchers found.

As they describe in the most recent edition of the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, the researchers say the total amount, or biomass, of each bass species decreased 90 percent since 1980. Yet fisheries catch rates have remained stable for a number of years, even as overall population sizes dropped drastically. This is due, the authors say, to a phenomenon known as "hyperstability" in which fishing targets spawning areas at which large numbers of fish congregate, leading to a misleading high catch rate and masking a decline in the overall population.

This reminds me of what a Florida fisherman was just telling me: Off of the west coast of Florida the allowed catches and fishing seasons have been cut back drastically over the last several years. Fisheries have shrunk so far that regulators have cut back on allowed fishing. This has cut into demand for pleasure boats used for fishing.

The world's fisheries are being overfished and the world's population is still growing. Fisheries depletion will get much worse.

Deep sea fisheries which have long living and slow growing fish are also being harvested in an unsustainable fashion.

A team of leading marine scientists from around the world is recommending an end to most commercial fishing in the deep sea, the Earth's largest ecosystem. Instead, they recommend fishing in more productive waters nearer to consumers.

In a comprehensive analysis published online this week in the journal Marine Policy, marine ecologists, fisheries biologists, economists, mathematicians and international policy experts show that, with rare exceptions, deep-sea fisheries are unsustainable. The "Sustainability of deep-sea fisheries" study, funded mainly by the Lenfest Ocean Program, comes just before the UN decides whether to continue allowing deep-sea fishing in international waters, which the UN calls "high seas."

Life is mostly sparse in the oceans' cold depths, far from the sunlight that fuels photosynthesis. Food is scarce and life processes happen at a slower pace than near the sea surface. Some deep-sea fishes live more than a century; some deep-sea corals can live more than 4,000 years. When bottom trawlers rip life from the depths, animals adapted to life in deep-sea time can't repopulate on human time scales. Powerful fishing technologies are overwhelming them.

Planet Earth has become a big tragedy of the commons.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 September 28 10:21 PM  Trends Resource Depletion

Anonymous said at September 29, 2011 9:01 AM:

[Anonymous got his childish comment deleted because he could not bother to give himself a unique pseudonym]

Paul R said at September 29, 2011 2:28 PM:

Of course the solution to "the tragedy of the commons" has long been known. Carve the commons up into private tracts.

MORPHEUS said at September 30, 2011 6:19 AM:









Randall Parker said at September 30, 2011 6:32 AM:


That's much better. I thought that was you.

Andrea Rossi: His technique is secret and it is yet unproven and unverifiable by others. It might work. But I'm not going to waste time on it until it is verified.

I delete Anonymous comments and comments that are all upper case. But I'll let you slide this time on the upper case. But use mixed case next time.

buzz said at September 30, 2011 10:39 AM:

"Andrea Rossi: His technique is secret and it is yet unproven and unverifiable by others. "

Not true. He says how right in his comment. "AND U IGNORE ANDREA ROSSI COLD FUSSION

WITCH WILL CHANGE EVRYTHING" Clearly, the secret is witchcraft.

MikeP said at September 30, 2011 10:56 AM:

Southern California, eh? One of the many areas plagued with an extensive illegal immigrant population? The same illegal immigrants who wouldn't go to the trouble of getting a license if they even could, and most likely wouldn't give a rat's arse about open seasons, catch limits, or catch size. Just a theory of course, but I would guess that although the 'reported' catches are static, there is a very significant 'undocumented' catch going on.

peterike said at September 30, 2011 10:58 AM:

We waste countless billions chasing global warming fantasies while genuine environmental tragedies are happening all around us.

peterike said at September 30, 2011 11:01 AM:

What MikeP said.

The tragedy of the commons is exacerbated when millions of "residents" are hostile to the very notion of a community. "Screw the gringo" is hardly an environmental policy that will lead to success. I won't hold my breath waiting for GreenPeace or Scripps to figure this out.

Constitution First said at September 30, 2011 11:04 AM:

The phenomena we are seeing on the East coast is a plague of "factory fishing" of Asians, Russians, Europeans. These monstrous vessels catch, process, then flash freeze or can the product right on site. They sit on the fish until their holds a bursting with "ready for retail" product, unlike the domestic fishermen who fish in much smaller vessels, take the unprocessed catch to local factories for processing, resulting in a much smaller harvest. The forein-owned factory ships are immune from US regulations, and focus on those breeds of fish that are in highest demand (hence why they are on the endangered list). While I do not feel territorial navigation rights should change, I strongly believe exclusive harvesting rights should be vastly expanded, with exceptions granted based upon conformation to pre-agreed-upon sustainable harvesting techniques. The first real test of how workable such an agreement will ultimately be, will undoubtably occur with our Canadian Brothers.

OssianSweet said at September 30, 2011 11:25 AM:

I strongly believe exclusive harvesting rights should be vastly expanded, with exceptions granted based upon conformation to pre-agreed-upon sustainable harvesting techniques

Easy to say-slash-strongly-believe. Problem is, fisheries-industries countries will go to war before they budge on fishing rights. And politicians who agree to budge or compromise will be lynched by their constituent fishermen. Expect status quo sliding ever nearer to everywhere-depletions.

jdm said at September 30, 2011 11:54 AM:

And yet the silver carp keep propagating... ;-)

John A. Fleming said at September 30, 2011 2:23 PM:

Been there, done that, unfortunately. Once several years, in the middle of summer, on a twilight fishing trip out of Newport Beach. The captain glommed onto a school of spawning striped sand bass. The guys on the boat were pulling big ones up left and right. The males were broadcasting sperm all over the boat sole and our clothes when they were pulled on board. Next year and the year after that, we went out the same way, came home empty. Now I know why. D'Oh!

teapartydoc said at September 30, 2011 4:01 PM:

If someone does not bother to get permission to enter the country in the first place, by what reasoning should he be expected to pay for a license and fish according to the rules?

Fred C. said at September 30, 2011 4:53 PM:

The migrants in San Diego north county are standing on street corners waiting to be picked up as day laborers. Some are riding old bicycles to gardening or landscaping jobs. Others are camped in the hills close to citrus groves and plant nurseries and a lucky few are getting work in light construction. None of them are fishing down at the bay or the beach or the lake. That's probably because it doesn't pay and it does attract attention. I don't support illegal immigration but I don't like to see people blamed for something they aren't doing. I've never seen any of them standing on a street corner, waving a cardboard sign and begging for money, either.

willis said at September 30, 2011 5:17 PM:

We're up to our gills in illegal fisherpersons as it is. I've haddock with new regulations to solve every problem and suggest we scale back such initiatives. Why don't we hold lotteries for fishing zones for as bait to induce compliance. At the same time, licence companies to contract out security services to secure their exclusive rights, throwing in a share of the catch just for the halibut. I'm sure there are several schools of thought based on a free fish market approach. People are brimming with such ideas and this site would make an excellent place to troll for them.

Randall Parker said at September 30, 2011 7:31 PM:


Thanks for pointing out the witchcraft involved. I misread Morpheus.

So witches are trying to drive humanity back into the Malthusian Trap by depleting resources. They have even cast a spell on Morpheus to insult us into ignoring the problem. But he's fighting their spell and he managed to warn us of the danger.

Hurray Morpheus! Fight on valiant man!

bobby b said at September 30, 2011 10:22 PM:

I sincerely doubt that fish stocks are being depleted by unlicensed barefoot fishermen standing on bridges and piers and rocky shores casting a baited hook out into the bay.

Unless these illegal aliens of whom you complain are getting together and buying seventy-foot net boats and sneaking around the habitats late at night, they're not causing any fishing overpressure.

FishWhacker said at October 1, 2011 5:53 PM:

You are partially right, if you are talking about NW Fl. If you mean the actual West Coast such as around Tampa, I have no data.
But in NW Fl, there is not a shortage of fish, just a shortage of good regulation.
Most of the area offshore is a desert.

Captains learned that they could dump tires, chunks of concrete whatever, and make an artificial reef, and catch all the bottom fish they wanted.
When GPS came along letting them find even the smallest spots, you saw a boom in reef building.

Red Snapper, Grouper, other prized fish which had been getting scarce, started making a comeback.
Then the regulators got into the act. First they created a size limit which guaranteed large losses of fish by forcing people to throw back the small ones which did not survive to get to the bottom.
Then they started closing the seasons, and lowering the limit.
I have personally thrown back 15 undersized fish, and watched everyone of them get eaten by barracuda, sharks, larger grouper and dolphins. Just so I could get my legal two that I was allowed to keep.
I would have kept two or three of the others and been satisfied.

Then they close the Snapper season after a couple of weeks because they are "overfished". I like Grouper better anyway, but it is almost impossible to catch one because the "overfished" Red Snapper take the bait first.
At any one of a dozen reefs, I can catch Snapper as fast as I go down. Sometimes two at a time.
Some quite large enough to be legal if the season was in.

If you do find a reef with few enough Snapper to catch grouper, they are thick as fleas.

The last meeting I went to before I sold my boat, someone asked how they knew that there was a shortage of Snapper.
They said it was because of two indicators.
One, when they sent down a diver to a barren place between two reefs to count the snapper moving between the reefs, he did not see many. A healthy population would have lots of moving fish.
Never mind that the diver could only see about 20 feet, and there was about 350 degrees around the reefs that he could not see.

The other way, which was when I got up and started getting my personal gear out of my boat, was when they said that there had been fewer snapper caught this year then the year before.

When someone pointed out that the season this year had been less then 1/4 as long as they past years, and they almost caught as many, there was no comment........

Randall Parker said at October 3, 2011 8:57 PM:


My info is about SW Florida, south of Tampa, north of Naples. e.g. going out of Charlotte Harbor.

From what I've read even when the fish are supposedly plentiful by modern standards they are a small fraction of what was there a couple hundred years ago.

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