Voice of San Diego’s recent story about the Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program and its state-contracted operator, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, was mind-boggling in its misrepresentations. A piece that far off target is obviously intended only to create a bad impression and a classic example of, “My mind’s made up, so don’t confuse me with facts.”
As someone who has spent his whole life in the marine fisheries arena and is intimately familiar with the hatchery program and with Hubbs, I need to offer a far more reasoned perspective on a valuable and innovative scientific stock-enhancement program.
Let’s start with a few facts. The Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program is one of the nation’s largest marine fish-enhancement research programs. It was launched in 1982 thanks to state legislation written by then-Assemblyman Larry Stirling, as well as private donations.
In 1984, the program’s advisory panel identified white seabass – a severely depleted species in Southern California waters – as a target for assessing the feasibility of long-term replenishment. From the get-go, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has contracted with Hubbs to operate the program.
Wild white seabass broodstock – caught and donated by recreational anglers – provide the eggs that are hatched at the hatchery. From there, the young fish are tagged before being taken to grow-out net pens built in coastal waters and maintained by volunteers. When the fish reach eight inches in length, they are released into the wild, to help build the wild population.
The program has a 32-year track record. Hubbs’ contract has been renewed annually without fail. Nearly 100 percent of the funding program comes from the recreational anglers who asked to be taxed to fund the program. Facts are stubborn things, and those are the facts.
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The claim that the white sea bass "breeding program" has been a "huge boost" is definitely opinion, and one that is not supported by scientific fact. These marine fish hatcheries have repeatedly been tried in multiple states and have yet to show success in enhancing fish populations. I did extensive research on these facilities as part of the effort to educate our local community about a fish hatchery coming to Pensacola, FL--where i live. While fishing magazines trumpet their success, the scientific journals that report evidence-based facts tell a completely different story--difficulty finding any success and plenty of signs of trouble, from genetic issues in the fish to pushing aside wild fish to being simply a waste of public funds as no enhancement of fish populations can be found. This has been the story in CA, Pacific NW, Alaska, and Texas. In CA the last I checked a couple of years ago, the State had not determined whether the white sea bass stock enhancement program (using fish from the Hubbs Sea World Facility) was working despite 20 years of operation.
Referring to the White Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (WSFMP), the State reports:
Currently, the WSFMP does not include the OREHP as a management tool; however, if deemed successful, enhancement could be incorporated in the management of white seabass.
Source: WHITE SEABASS ENHANCEMENT PLAN, California Department of Fish and Game Marine Region, June 2010
In its Seafood Watch Seafood Report: White Seabass, Atractoscion nobilis, published January 10, 2011, the Monterey Bay Aquarium references the OREHP (the stock enhancement program for white sea bass), stating:
Since 1986, the program has released 1.6 million white seabass juveniles into the ocean (Taylor, pers. comm., 2009), but the program is believed to have had little impact on natural populations (Allen, pers. comm., 2009).
The personal communication referenced comes from Larry Allen, Chair and Professor of Biology, California State University, Northridge.
The untold story here that would be great for southern California media to follow is to find out why the State continues to spend money on this program even though it cannot demonstrate any success at enhancing populations of white sea bass.
Thank you Mr. Fletcher for your thoughtful and factual response to the original piece and I too couldn't help but think that there was a definite agenda by the author of the original article. Too many people have blindly embraced PETA's attempts to demonize Sea World. I have yet to see a PETA team or PETA members help a stranded seal, whale or other sea life needing attention. It is always the wonderful volunteers and staff of Sea World that is there to rescue them and nurture them back to health. I am very proud that Sea World is part of our community.
I can only second Mr. Fletcher's comments. Many people, after reading the original story, probably concluded that mad scientists at Sea World were foisting "frankenfish" on an unsuspecting populace. The hysteria present in the original story is reflective of mistaken claims world wide about genetically modified foods and anything else not done "naturally". This is a great success story, and demonstrates the sincerity of recreational fishermen to protect and enhance fish stocks, and the cooperation they have achieved with state authorities.
Sea World is not Enron or BP, and is being tarred by PETA in it's latest attempt to free all "captive" animals. Wait until they target race horses and zoo elephants. Then the public might wake up.
By the way, a local fisherman caught a 74 pounder at La Jolla kelp a couple of days ago, from his kayak!