About 5500 handfed and hatchery-bred White Seabass swam to saltwater freedom Saturday morning after over 20 volunteers spent the day moving them from feeding tanks at the Redondo Beach SEAlab to the ocean by way of the King Harbor Marina.
“Releasing them is like letting your child go out to school,” director of the Redondo Beach King Harbor Ocean Enhancement program Rich Ford said.
Over 23 volunteers handfed the fish daily in preparation for this moment. The fish that were initially brought to the tanks adjacent to the SEAlab in April grew from around two inches to eight to 11 inches in the six months the volunteers fed them. They were given food from an auto feeder eight times a day for three minutes, and were handfed once a day for about an hour. The program has been nurturing and freeing White Seabass for around 15 years in Redondo Beach. There are other programs that do the same thing up and down the coast.
The Redondo Beach King Harbor Ocean Enhancement Foundation’s White Seabass Project Grow Out Pens were founded by the Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program of the California Department of Fish and Game. The overall effort is funded by the Sport Fish Restoration Act’s Fishing Licenses Stamp Fees and the California Coastal Commission Mitigation Funding from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Settlement.
The entire state project releases about 60,000 fish into the Santa Monica Bay yearly and can potentially release 350,000, Ford said. The Redondo Beach program releases between 5,000 to 12,000 fish a year, one or two batches, depending on the program’s schedule.
In the six months they fed the fish, the group only lost about 100, which Ford said was a good statistic, only about half a fish a day. This release was especially meaningful to the volunteers because they lost an entire batch of fish a week before release in early February because of a chlorine bleach contamination.
On Saturday the volunteers were dressed to get wet, and after a few quick minutes, most of the volunteers were soaking.
They used nets to capture the fast fish from two circular tanks and moved them to saltwater filled buckets and then into a tank on top of a truck.
“We’ve got to get a good bucket brigade going,” yelled one volunteer after organizing the volunteers into stations and beginning the process of moving 5500 fish to the ocean.
The fish jumped out of the nets and ferociously swam away from them, trying to avoid capture. Volunteers eventually hatched a plan as the fish grew sparse and harder to catch. One person took a larger net and chased the fish school into another volunteer’s net, until the tanks were picked clean and no more fish were left. Throughout the day they also slowly released the water in the tanks, giving the fish less area to run from their captures.
Kenton Finkbeiner from the Ocean Replenishment Enhancement and Hatchery Program, drove down to the event with the truck and moveable tanks to help the fish and volunteers on their journey to the ocean. As red and blue buckets were filled with 10 fish at a time, he lifted the bucket up and dumped them into the silver tanks while another volunteer used a clicker to keep track of the fish in each tank. The three tanks, each with the capacity to hold 700 fish were slowly filled and eventually driven to the King Harbor Yacht Club to be released.
“It was interesting and fun to see them go out in the ocean,” said volunteer Kristina Bruechele.
Once at the ocean, the process was replicated in reverse and buckets were dropped to the dock and the fish were released. Some unlucky fingerlings that hovered too close to the surface were scooped up by seagulls, but the majority waited for a few moments and eventually disappeared into the darkness of the green harbor water.
“This is fishing without getting fishy,” said 15-year volunteer Gene Morris from Inglewood.
Steve Bruechle is a fisherman and also a volunteer. He participates in the program each year to give back to the ocean. Early on, he said that there weren’t many sea bass in the Santa Monica Bay because of gill nets that captured them. But since the program began the nets were moved, the population has been steadily rising. Some fishermen have even reported catching smaller seabass, which means that some of the fish have started spawning again. He also explained that the seabass raised for the program are tagged with a small hair-sized tracking device before they are released and fisherman are encouraged to cut off the head of caught seabass and bring them to drop-off locations so their location and size can be tracked.
“People are going to take fish out of the water, so people need to put them back,” said Ford. “Really we need to be doing this for all fish.”
After the release into the marina the seagulls were warded off by hoses as volunteers watched their small fish swim into the ocean.
“This is our reward,” said Ford. “Our little teenagers are going out on their own.”
Volunteers at Saturday’s event included Mike Wicen, Michael Lim, Jamie Lim, John Whitaker, Ned Washburn, Noren Washburn, Tony Moren, Rosemary Moren, Rosie Morgen, Gene Morris, Richard Ford, Joe Ryan, Steve Bruechle, Kristina Bruechele, George Chalekson, Eric Neuman, Fred Casstevens, Paul Gillette, Macy Gillette and Pam Gillette. ER