After a four-year hiatus, Central Coast Salmon Enhancement is hoping to resume releasing game fish into San Luis Obispo Bay this summer.
Except this time it won’t be the group’s namesake king salmon. Instead, the group plans to release another fish species that is highly sought-after by anglers - white seabass.
The Port San Luis Harbor District has released an environmental analysis of the project, which is available at www.portsanluis/fishing/. The public can comment of the project until Feb. 13.
The project calls for mooring up to four rearing pens in the bay about a half mile east of Harford Pier near the end of the Cal Poly Pier. Initially, some 2,000 juvenile seabass would be reared in the pens.
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The fisheries enhancement group still needs a number of permits from state regulatory agencies, but the goal is to rear the first batch of fish this summer, said David Moran, the port’s environmental coordinator.
“This is, in some respects, a pilot program to see if seabass will do well here because they normally prefer the warmer waters of Southern California,” he said.” They may not grow as fast here, but we expect a successful outcome.”
In 2008, the group was forced to give up its longstanding program of rearing and releasing Chinook salmon in Port San Luis. The state Department of Fish and Game told the group that, for the foreseeable future, it would no longer allow the rearing of salmon in order to protect local threatened populations of steelhead trout.
This left the group in search of another species of fish to sponsor. They selected white seabass because a hatchery in Carlsbad regularly produces the fish and they have been successfully released at 13 locations in Southern California.
Seabass are mostly found south of Point Conception but are occasionally caught in Central Coast waters. The goal of the rearing program is to establish a viable recreational and commercial seabass fishery in San Luis Bay, Moran said.
Seabass can live 20 years and reach lengths of five feet. They were historically overfished but have recovered. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program lists hook-and-line-caught seabass as a “best choice” and gillnet-caught seabass as a “good alternative.”
The seabass fingerlings would be obtained from a hatchery that is operated by the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute. The juvenile fish are 4 inches long when they are delivered and will be raised in the pens until they are ready for release at 8 to 10 inches.
The pens will float in water about 32 feet deep and the nets will reach a depth of 22 feet. While the initial delivery would be for 2,000 fingerlings, the number of fish could be increased in the future if the program proves successful.
The enhancement group will take several steps to avoid having the project harm the environment. These include replacing any eelgrass that is impacted and monitoring to prevent water pollution.
The group estimates it will cost $5,500 to get the project through the permitting and environmental review period. About half that amount has been raised, according to the group’s website www.centralcoastsalmon.com.