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History of the White Seabass Grow-Out Program In Marina Del Rey
By Bob Godfrey
In 1991 after seeing how successful the salmon rearing pens were working in the Pacific Northwest I looked into doing something similar in MDR. Several respected local “experts” (Rimon Faye and Capt. Frenchy) said fish could not be reared in MDR because of the bad water quality. There was a new white seabass rearing pen in Ventura and I met the guy in charge, Jim Donlon. He encouraged me to get involved with the United Anglers who, in partnership with Hubbs Research, were pushing a white seabass program.
Jim from Ventura helped me design the first pen. The MDR Anglers fully supported the idea but could not fund ($10,000) the build. I contacted our County Supervisor and Head of Beaches and Harbors and got their support to park the pen at Burton Chace Park. They were partly motivated to give us their support because they needed to refute the allegations of bad water in the Marina. The county was paying to have annual fish census trawls in the marina. While there was an assortment of fish in the census there were no white seabass ever caught. Before we could start building we had to find donors, which we did. The largest donation was a $5000 grant from the LA County Fish and Game Commission. Before we could build I had to get the plans approved by the Building Department, Beaches and Harbors, the Calif. Coastal Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers. The approvals took over 18 months to obtain because this was the first project of its kind in LA County. The Boat Yard agreed to let us build and launch the pen in their yard at no cost. Club members donated their skill and time to fabricate parts and assemble the pen. The pen was towed to the Park in early 1995 and the fence and roof were installed.
The first batch of 2350 fingerlings were counted and transferred to the In Seine bait boat on September 13, 1995. These fish were released during daylight near Venice Pier and the birds and seals feasted. We tried that one more time and switched to releasing fish directly from the pens at the Park. After seals penetrated the pen we learned that a predator barrier had to be added. We subsequently wrapped the pen to keep out birds and darken the interior.
During this time Paul Simon was a very active Pen Pal and took over supervision of the project in January 1997. Paul became our representative at United Anglers. In the same year the State passed Assembly Bill AB 1414 to require Fishery Managements Plans for white seabass and halibut under the Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program (OREHP). United Anglers lobbied for the “enhancement stamp” so that sport anglers would fund the program and not depend on the State F&G for budgets. An important part of the OREHP Plan was to assess the impact of raising and releasing WSB in So Cal. Every WSB has a coded magnetic wire implanted in their cheek for identity. By this time the Redondo WSB pens were in operation and another 10 pens in the planning process. Paul Simon was very active in United Anglers and OREHP and was responsible for MDRA buying 20 freezers and delivering them to bait stores and landings so WSB heads could be collected and stored for hatchery pickup. OREHP sponsored a head collection prize for the party boats which worked fairly well. The crew of Mirage, out of Ventura, won $1000 twice. For several years the MDRA sponsored a $500 raffle prize for sport anglers who got a ticket in the raffle for each head turned in to a collection spot. Neither of these reward programs ever got enough publicity to be very effective. In 1998 Paul Simon and I built and launched pen #2, which is a foot deeper than #1, to increase fish holding capacity. The two pens were capable of holding up to 6,000 WSB at a time. After Paul passed away Darrell Pickford managed the pens for many years and then Jack Dreger took over.