Hatchery raised white seabass
Hatchery raised white seabass. Courtesy Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute

Decades long efforts involving Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and a hatchery in Carlsbad have significantly increased white seabass stocks off Southern California and Mexico.

A new study released this week and based on genetic markers showed that as much as 46% of the seabass samples caught off the coast recently were fish introduced through California’s Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program.

“These results are extremely promising for the OREHP program and for restoring the white seabass fishery,” said Mark Drawbridge, a senior scientist at Hubbs SeaWorld.

Earlier studies using wire tags on hatchery fish were inconclusive. But the genetic marker technique developed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is considered nearly 100% accurate.

“We hope these promising results will attract the interest and funding to continue this work for the good of the white seabass fishery and the people who enjoy fishing for them,” said Drawbridge.

The program is funded by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife largely through sales of the Ocean Enhancement Stamp required on fishing licenses for anglers between Point Arguello and the Mexican border.

Since 1983 more than two-and-one-half million juvenile white seabass have been released along the Southern California coast. As of 2020, the seabass population stood at 27% of the level before commercial fishing began.

The Leon Raymond Hubbard Jr. Marine Fish Hatchery on the Agua Hedonia Lagoon in Carlsbad was recently expanded to raise other ocean fish.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.