Giant Sea Bass Worth More Alive As Undersea Wonders Than As Commercial Catch

2017-10-24T12:33:17+00:00 October 18, 2017|
(Credit: Jeffrey Bozanic)

(Click to enlarge) (Credit: Jeffrey Bozanic)

Almost as large as a Smart car, giant sea bass can weigh more than 500 pounds and grow longer than 6 feet. At this size, they are the largest bony fish found along the California coast. Once commercially important, these gentle giants were overfished in the 1900s, leading to the collapse of the fishery in the 1970s. Now, they are classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, making them as imperiled as the black rhino.

(From Science Daily) — In a new study, UCSB researchers investigated the different economic values of giant sea bass — paradoxically both a flagship species to the recreational dive industry and regularly sold in California’s commercial fisheries when incidentally caught — to two key stakeholders: commercial fishers and recreational scuba divers. Their findings appear in the journal Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.

“Analyzing commercial catch data, we found that the average annual value of the giant sea bass fishery to fishers in California was $12,600,” said lead author Ana Sofia Guerra, a graduate student in UCSB’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology (EEMB). “This represents less than 1 percent of the value of the non-endangered fish commercial fishers are actually targeting: white sea bass and California halibut, which are healthy and sustainable seafood options.”

While giant sea bass can no longer be targeted by commercial fishermen, if one is caught in a gill net during the capture of other species, it can be sold, which is why this endangered fish still appears regularly on restaurant menus and in fish markets.

Using self-reported fishery catch location data, the researchers identified seasonal bycatch hotspots, where commercial fishermen were not catching white sea bass or halibut but accidentally caught a lot of giant sea bass. According to co-author Douglas McCauley, an EEMB assistant professor, managing such ocean pockets as seasonal giant sea bass sanctuaries would likely have minimal or no financial impact on California’s important fisheries but might create a lot more worth for the dive industry.

Although the economic value of a species generally is equated with consumption, the growth of ecotourism has expanded the range of value to include animal interaction — think photography or wildlife viewing.

“Approximately 1.38 million dives are done in California on an annual basis,” Guerra said. “Annual direct expenditures from scuba diving in California range from $161 to $323 million.”

Giant sea bass are to California divers what a bison sighting might be to a visitor in Yellowstone National Park. An iconic part of the state’s underwater wilderness, giant sea bass have a curious gentle disposition, yet some divers go years without seeing one.

To ascertain the value of giant sea bass in the scuba community, the scientists surveyed…

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