The decline and recovery of four predatory fishes from the Southern California Bight

Abstract

What to do about fisheries collapse and the decline of large fishes in marine ecosystems is a critical debate on a global scale. To address one aspect of this debate, a major fisheries management action, the removal of gill nets in 1994 from the nearshore arena in the Southern California Bight (34°26′30″N, 120°27′09″W to 33°32′03″N, 117°07′28″W) was analyzed. First, the impetus for the gill net ban was the crash of the commercial fishery for white seabass (Atractoscion nobilis; Sciaenidae) in the early 1980s. From 1982 to 1997 catch remained at a historically low level (47.8 ± 3.0 mt) when compared to landings from 1936–1981, but increased significantly from 1995–2004 (r = 0.89, P < 0.01) to within the 95% confidence limit of the historic California landings. After the white seabass fishery crashed in the early 1980s, landings of soupfin (Galeorhinus galeus; Triakidae) and leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata; Triakidae) also significantly declined (r = 0.95, P < 0.01 and r = 0.91, P < 0.01, respectively) until the gill net closure. After the closure both soupfin and leopard shark significantly increased in CPUE (r = 0.72, P = 0.02 and r = 0.87, P < 0.01, respectively). Finally, giant sea bass (Stereolepis gigas; Polyprionidae) the apex predatory fish in this ecosystem, which was protected from commercial and recreational fishing in 1981, were not observed in a quarterly scientific SCUBA monitoring program from 1974 to 2001 but reappeared in 2002–2004. In addition, CPUE of giant seabass increased significantly from 1995 to 2004 (r = 0.82, P < 0.01) in the gill net monitoring program. The trends in abundance of these fishes return were not correlated with sea surface temperature (SST), the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) or the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO). All four species increased significantly in either commercial catch, CPUE, or in the SCUBA monitoring program after the 1994 gill net closure, whereas they had declined significantly, crashed, or were absent prior to this action. This suggests that removing gill nets from coastal ecosystems has a positive impact on large marine fishes.

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Acknowledgments

The Ocean Resource Enhancement Hatchery Program, California Department of Fish and Game, funded the nearshore gill net monitoring program. The SCUBA surveys over the last three decades were funded by several sources including Southern California Edison, the US Army Corps of Engineers, California Department of Fish and Game, and Chevron Texaco Products Company, where we would like to acknowledge the support of Wayne Ishimoto. All research was conducted under permits to both authors from the California Department of Fish and Game.

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Correspondence to Daniel J. Pondella II.

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Communicated by J.P. Grassle.

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Pondella, D.J., Allen, L.G. The decline and recovery of four predatory fishes from the Southern California Bight. Mar Biol 154, 307–313 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-008-0924-0

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Keywords

  • Pacific Decadal Oscillation
  • Pacific Decadal Oscillation Index
  • Southern California Bight
  • Leopard Shark
  • Rocky Headland