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Black Seabass – A legal take and a healthy population in Mexico.

Black Seabass are showing good signs in their recovery

”My first Black seabass on 40lb test, alongside a nice WSB and good sized yellowtail. Today was a good day.” – Chris Pizzitola fishing with Cedros Sportfishing and Diving.
”My first Black seabass on 40lb test, alongside a nice WSB and good sized yellowtail. Today was a good day.” – Chris Pizzitola fishing with Cedros Sportfishing and Diving.

Dock Totals 8/20 – 8/26: 2927 anglers aboard 145 half-day to 3-day trips out of San Diego landings over the past week caught 1 black seabass (released), 2369 bluefin tuna (up to 260 pounds), 2 bocaccio, 68 bonito, 178 calico bass, 1691 dorado, 1 halfmoon, 3 halibut, 8 lingcod, 1 petrale sole, 2667 rockfish, 65 sand bass, 20 sanddab, 63 sculpin, 90 sheephead, 1 skipjack tuna, 1 striped marlin, 1 croaker, 275 whitefish, 1 white seabass, 172 yellowfin tuna, and 1062 yellowtail.

Saltwater: As I sit here mulling over the catch post-Hurricane Hilary, my back sore back from catching a plethora of surf perch yesterday from the beach near my digs at Cielito Lindo just south of San Quintin in Baja, I can’t help but think of the last time I was this sore from fishing. Yes, surf perch wore me out. Get your chuckle in. But shore-pounding an all-day consistent bite on the smallest species I target can be burdensome for this old carpenter. Memory sparks to life: the last time I was this sore was last August, when, while kayak fishing the bay mouth here, I landed and kept a 75-pound black (or giant) seabass. 

Now, black seabass are listed as Critically-Endangered on the IUCN’s (International Union of Conservation of Nature) Red List of endangered species, but that status is being challenged by recent studies that take into account the entire distribution of the species. Their number was estimated at “less than 500” not too many years ago; thus the listing by the IUCN. However, protected as they are in California from commercial and recreational take — and most rightfully so — the previous studies concentrated only on fish found off California. (They are allowed as by-catch in the commercial fishery in California in limited numbers, by the way, and can be found for sale occasionally at some fish markets.)

Edward Llewellen with his 425-pound black seabass caught in 1903 off Catalina Island, a world record at the time.

The problem is that California represents only about one-quarter of their range. Black seabass are actually considered in good health south of the border, where they are fished both commercially and recreationally, with one per angler per day allowed for the latter. As far as black seabass commercially caught south of the border, records going back 60 years show an average of 55 tons taken per year. Even so, typically, when someone posts a catch of black seabass caught in Mexican waters on social media fishing pages, there tend to be a few comments that disparage the angler for taking the fish. Sometimes, the disparagement includes condemnation of lax regulations in Mexico. 

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In fact, recreational regulations are generally more strict in Mexico than in California, and a lot of that has to do with maintaining the health of the fisheries for the very lucrative fishing tourism that the generally excellent fishing brings to Mexican waters. Dorado is a good example. I volunteered for a kid’s fishing clinic as a part of the Bahia Asuncion fishing tournament in 2019, and the suggestion was to keep dorado only if larger than six kilos (13.2-pounds). The recreational take in Mexico for dorado is two fish per angler per day. Often, over the past couple summer-fall seasons off California, thousands of dorado per week have been caught north of the border, and most of those were under that size. Further, the limit in California is 10 fish per angler per day, which accounts for over 30,000 being caught from San Diego based sportfishing vessels between August 6 and September 3, 2022. That’s just one example. 

That said, enforcement of both recreational and illegal commercial take in Mexico is a daunting task, given somewhat limited resources and the thousands of miles of rugged coastline. Still, a legal take of a large black seabass in Mexico is an accomplishment for any angler, as the big fish can put up a brutish battle and tend to live near jagged reefs in relatively shallow water to 100 feet or so. Once thought of as a grouper, black seabass are actually classed as the largest species in the “wreckfish” or Polyprionidae family — as in, they like the habitat provided by sunken vessels.

Black seabass make for great table fare, with firm white meat that can be prepared grilled, smoked, fried or in soups and stews. On August 25, angler Chris Pizzitola, fishing off Cedros Island with Cedros Sportfishing landed a hefty black seabass at around 140 pounds, along with a yellowtail and white seabass (not related to the black seabass) on a relatively light 40-pound setup on the first day of his fishing trip to the Island. His post-catch comment about sums up my experience with the big fish, as I have caught and released several, and kept one, “I’m sore.” Yup, I understand that sentiment.

For those who feel sketchy about keeping a legally caught black seabass in Mexico, that is fine. Many are released. But they can be hard to revive for release, as they will build up a lot of lactic acid during the battle and will typically ‘roll’ and float up when near the boat after a prolonged fight. Often, keeping one is better than leaving a fish in the water that most likely will not survive. But in recreational fishing in US waters, this is still not allowed. As a heavily protected species in California (and, again, rightfully so), knowing how to revive them is important.

First, you may be tempted to lift one out of the water for a photo. Do not. That, too, is against regulations north of the border. Get your in-water pic, then roll the fish upright. If possible, gently nudge the boat forward to about one knot and hold the fish so that water goes through its mouth and gills. (Gloves help.) Eventually, if the fish is in good relatively shape, it will kick and be able to swim free back to the undersea realm, in which it has no predators and can live up to 75 years and grow to well over 500 pounds. Once over-fished to near extinction in California waters, they are showing good signs of recovery. Sportfishing and commercial fishing takes were heavy in the early- to mid-20th-century, and posing with a giant caught fish seemed almost a fad at one point. Citing their rapidly-declining numbers at the time, the famous free-divers of the Bottom Scratcher’s club quit taking them around 1955 or so. If people are allowed to take them in California, even with a one-fish limit, the extreme pressure might just endanger their population again. But if in Mexico, current science shows that within legal limits, taking a black seabass is not going to be the issue many may think it is based on outdated and selective studies. They’re out there, so go get ‘em!

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”My first Black seabass on 40lb test, alongside a nice WSB and good sized yellowtail. Today was a good day.” – Chris Pizzitola fishing with Cedros Sportfishing and Diving.
”My first Black seabass on 40lb test, alongside a nice WSB and good sized yellowtail. Today was a good day.” – Chris Pizzitola fishing with Cedros Sportfishing and Diving.

Dock Totals 8/20 – 8/26: 2927 anglers aboard 145 half-day to 3-day trips out of San Diego landings over the past week caught 1 black seabass (released), 2369 bluefin tuna (up to 260 pounds), 2 bocaccio, 68 bonito, 178 calico bass, 1691 dorado, 1 halfmoon, 3 halibut, 8 lingcod, 1 petrale sole, 2667 rockfish, 65 sand bass, 20 sanddab, 63 sculpin, 90 sheephead, 1 skipjack tuna, 1 striped marlin, 1 croaker, 275 whitefish, 1 white seabass, 172 yellowfin tuna, and 1062 yellowtail.

Saltwater: As I sit here mulling over the catch post-Hurricane Hilary, my back sore back from catching a plethora of surf perch yesterday from the beach near my digs at Cielito Lindo just south of San Quintin in Baja, I can’t help but think of the last time I was this sore from fishing. Yes, surf perch wore me out. Get your chuckle in. But shore-pounding an all-day consistent bite on the smallest species I target can be burdensome for this old carpenter. Memory sparks to life: the last time I was this sore was last August, when, while kayak fishing the bay mouth here, I landed and kept a 75-pound black (or giant) seabass. 

Now, black seabass are listed as Critically-Endangered on the IUCN’s (International Union of Conservation of Nature) Red List of endangered species, but that status is being challenged by recent studies that take into account the entire distribution of the species. Their number was estimated at “less than 500” not too many years ago; thus the listing by the IUCN. However, protected as they are in California from commercial and recreational take — and most rightfully so — the previous studies concentrated only on fish found off California. (They are allowed as by-catch in the commercial fishery in California in limited numbers, by the way, and can be found for sale occasionally at some fish markets.)

Edward Llewellen with his 425-pound black seabass caught in 1903 off Catalina Island, a world record at the time.

The problem is that California represents only about one-quarter of their range. Black seabass are actually considered in good health south of the border, where they are fished both commercially and recreationally, with one per angler per day allowed for the latter. As far as black seabass commercially caught south of the border, records going back 60 years show an average of 55 tons taken per year. Even so, typically, when someone posts a catch of black seabass caught in Mexican waters on social media fishing pages, there tend to be a few comments that disparage the angler for taking the fish. Sometimes, the disparagement includes condemnation of lax regulations in Mexico. 

Sponsored
Sponsored

In fact, recreational regulations are generally more strict in Mexico than in California, and a lot of that has to do with maintaining the health of the fisheries for the very lucrative fishing tourism that the generally excellent fishing brings to Mexican waters. Dorado is a good example. I volunteered for a kid’s fishing clinic as a part of the Bahia Asuncion fishing tournament in 2019, and the suggestion was to keep dorado only if larger than six kilos (13.2-pounds). The recreational take in Mexico for dorado is two fish per angler per day. Often, over the past couple summer-fall seasons off California, thousands of dorado per week have been caught north of the border, and most of those were under that size. Further, the limit in California is 10 fish per angler per day, which accounts for over 30,000 being caught from San Diego based sportfishing vessels between August 6 and September 3, 2022. That’s just one example. 

That said, enforcement of both recreational and illegal commercial take in Mexico is a daunting task, given somewhat limited resources and the thousands of miles of rugged coastline. Still, a legal take of a large black seabass in Mexico is an accomplishment for any angler, as the big fish can put up a brutish battle and tend to live near jagged reefs in relatively shallow water to 100 feet or so. Once thought of as a grouper, black seabass are actually classed as the largest species in the “wreckfish” or Polyprionidae family — as in, they like the habitat provided by sunken vessels.

Black seabass make for great table fare, with firm white meat that can be prepared grilled, smoked, fried or in soups and stews. On August 25, angler Chris Pizzitola, fishing off Cedros Island with Cedros Sportfishing landed a hefty black seabass at around 140 pounds, along with a yellowtail and white seabass (not related to the black seabass) on a relatively light 40-pound setup on the first day of his fishing trip to the Island. His post-catch comment about sums up my experience with the big fish, as I have caught and released several, and kept one, “I’m sore.” Yup, I understand that sentiment.

For those who feel sketchy about keeping a legally caught black seabass in Mexico, that is fine. Many are released. But they can be hard to revive for release, as they will build up a lot of lactic acid during the battle and will typically ‘roll’ and float up when near the boat after a prolonged fight. Often, keeping one is better than leaving a fish in the water that most likely will not survive. But in recreational fishing in US waters, this is still not allowed. As a heavily protected species in California (and, again, rightfully so), knowing how to revive them is important.

First, you may be tempted to lift one out of the water for a photo. Do not. That, too, is against regulations north of the border. Get your in-water pic, then roll the fish upright. If possible, gently nudge the boat forward to about one knot and hold the fish so that water goes through its mouth and gills. (Gloves help.) Eventually, if the fish is in good relatively shape, it will kick and be able to swim free back to the undersea realm, in which it has no predators and can live up to 75 years and grow to well over 500 pounds. Once over-fished to near extinction in California waters, they are showing good signs of recovery. Sportfishing and commercial fishing takes were heavy in the early- to mid-20th-century, and posing with a giant caught fish seemed almost a fad at one point. Citing their rapidly-declining numbers at the time, the famous free-divers of the Bottom Scratcher’s club quit taking them around 1955 or so. If people are allowed to take them in California, even with a one-fish limit, the extreme pressure might just endanger their population again. But if in Mexico, current science shows that within legal limits, taking a black seabass is not going to be the issue many may think it is based on outdated and selective studies. They’re out there, so go get ‘em!

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