Fisheries offshore Santa Barbara County, and offshore southern
California, contain a diversity of species due, in part, to the
mixing of warm southern water and cooler northern water in the Southern
California Bight. Approximately 550 species of fish inhabit or pass
through these waters. Point Conception, located within Santa Barbara
County, is a unique area due to the fact that the waters offshore
serve as a point of convergence for species that inhabit colder
northern waters and those of warmer southern waters. As such, Point
Conception and the Santa Barbara Channel serve as spawning and rearing
areas for approximately 64 species of commercial fish and shellfish
throughout the year.
Characteristic oceanic circulation in, and sources
of water of, the Southern California Bight (Browne 1994)
Source: Minerals Management Service (MMS OCS Draft EIS/EA 2001-046,
The commercial fishing industry is well established and economically
important to Santa Barbara County and the region. The following
table below indicates the pounds of commercial fish landed in the
Santa Barbara reporting area (Santa Barbara, Ventura, Oxnard and
Port Hueneme harbors) for 1988 to 1998.
Many local fishers catch multiple commercial species
using a variety of gear types as species composition and dollar
value of fish and invertebrates varies from year to year depending
on a variety of factors, including harvest regulations and restrictions,
market demand, price, species availability and weather.
The California Department of Fish and Game regulates commercial
fishers’ use of fishing techniques and equipment and places
limits on the commercial species that are harvested. Commercial
species include abalone, anchovy, crab, hagfish, halibut, lobster,
mackerel, prawns, rockfish, sablefish, salmon, sea cucumber, sea
urchin, shark, sole, shrimp, swordfish, tuna, white croaker, white
sea bass, and thornyhead.
Different commercial fishing techniques and equipment are used
to harvest commercial fish species, depending on the target species
being sought during a particular season of the year. A brief description
of the techniques and equipment used to harvest commercial species
is provided below.
Divers commercially harvest urchins and sea cucumbers offshore
Santa Barbara County. At one time, divers also harvested black,
green, white, pink and red species of abalone. In 1993, the commercial
harvest of black abalone was banned due to severe depletion of the
stock due to the fatal disease called “withering foot syndrome.”
In 1996, the commercial harvest of green, pink and white abalone
was banned due to decreasing stocks resulting from natural causes,
fishing pressure and pollution. In 1997, a five-year moratorium
was placed on the commercial harvest of red abalone was enacted.
In 1998, all abalone harvests were banned south of San Francisco
in 1998. When harvesting sea cucumbers and urchins, divers typically
use long air hoses attached to an onboard air compressor to supply
them with air. Doing this eliminates interruptions associated with
having to make multiple air tank changes on a typical scuba system
since sea cucumber and urchin divers harvest by hand and are under
water for many hours each day.
This method is used to target species such as swordfish and shark.
Often, an airplane will accompany a boat in order to locate the
target species. Overall, the region’s harpoon fleet has declined
since the 1990s due to the use of gill nets for these species and
a decline in market prices.
Longlines consist of fishing lines with hooks attached at regular
intervals. These rigs can be weighted for use on the surface, at
midwater, or along the sea floor. In California waters, longline
rigs used on the surface of the ocean (commonly called “surface”,
“drift”, or “pelagic” rigs) of the type
used to catch billfish and tuna elsewhere is prohibited. However,
a variety of non-surface longline setups is used depending on water
depth and location. Fisheries located near shore where species such
as cabezon, sheephead and a variety of rockfish are located in water
depths up to 60 feet, limit each longline to no more than 15 hooks.
Boats operating in these areas are limited to a maximum of 150 hooks.
- Set Longline – These are deployed along, or near, the
ocean floor. The are held in place by anchors. Floats and weights
allow for the adjustment of the line’s depth.Longlines may
contain hundreds or thousands of hooks, unless restrictions exist
in certain areas. This method is used to target rockfish such
as boccacio, and reef fish such as cabazon and lingcod, and sablefish.
- Stick Gear – These longlines are used in near-shore fisheries.
This type of longline consists of a series of hooks attached to
a weighted rod. The gear is placed on the ocean floor, then jigged.
This method is used primarily to harvest squid.
- Vertical Longline – These are deployed in areas where
rocky outcrops, seamounts, underwater canyon walls or other hardbottom
areas where seafloor features cause fish to “stack”
vertically in the water column. The bottom of this type of longline
is weighted to hold it in place. Up to 200 hooks are fastened
to it at regular intervals and the top of the line is attached
to a buoy. The line is deployed in a fashion that allows the buoy
to drift with the current past the vertically concentrated fish.
After a period of time the line is retrieved and either rebaited
or the fisher moves to another location, depending on the success
of the catch.
- Drift net – This method is used to target species such
as swordfish and shark. This technique employs a net of up to
1.5 miles long that is attached to a fishing vessel with the other
end attached to a buoy (sometimes both ends are attached to buoys).
The nets are fished at the surface to a depth of approximately
- Stationary (set net) – This method is used primarily
in shallow water up to 180 feet, however, deeper waters are beginning
to be fished using this method. Species targeted using this method
include halibut, rockfish, sea bass and shark. Set nets are anchored
to the ocean floor at both ends and can be set to a certain depth,
depending on the species being sought. With the passage of Proposition
132 (1990), a Marine Resources Protection Zone was created that
banned the use of set gill nets within three miles of the mainland
(1 mile of the shoreline of the Channel Islands) in waters with
a depth of 420 feet or less. The ban, affecting southern California
waters, went into effect in 1994.
This method uses a large net towed behind a primary vessel with
a skiff deployed to encircle the target species, close the open
end of the net and return that end to the primary vessel. A winch
on the primary vessel rapidly closes the bottom of the net and hauls
its contents onboard. During net retrieval, the boat is immobile.
This method is used to catch pelagic species that temporarily concentrate
in a certain area, such as anchovy, bonito, mackerel, sardines and
squid. Spotter airplanes are often used to locate schools of these
pelagic fish. Purse seining for squid is conducted at night using
light boats to attract and harvest the catch. While searching for
pelagic schools of target species, the purse seining vessels often
follow erratic courses. This method is generally used in water depths
of up to 150 feet.
Traps are usually placed in depths of less than 180 feet. Species
targeted with traps consist of crabs, lobster and a variety of rockfish.
Traps are set and weighted to hold them in place on the ocean floor.
Traps are deployed for a period of days then retrieved. Buoys tethered
to the traps mark their location. Fishers maintain multiple traps
that may include several hundred in total strung from various trap
“lines”. Fishers deploy their trap lines at varying
location, depending on the success of the catch. Lobster is a species
with a regulated fishing season (first Wednesday in October through
the first Wednesday after March 15). As the season progresses, traps
are moved into deeper water following the movement of this species.
Crabs are trapped following the same pattern of deeper water as
winter progresses, though a season is not specified and crabs are
Trawling consists of the use of nets dragged at depth, or along
the bottom, from approximately 240 feet to 2,400 feet. This technique
is used for a variety of species, including prawns, rockfish, sea
cucumbers, shrimp, and on a seasonal basis, halibut in State waters.
This is a mobile fishery where a trawl net is towed behind a boat
along a depth contour for several hours. Once the trawl course has
been completed, the net is winched onto the boat. When the trawl
nets are deployed, the trawl boats are difficult to maneuver. Once
a trawler begins a run down a trawl course, any significant deviation
from the pre-planned course may trigger the need for the trawl net
to be reset. These nets may be up to a mile behind the boat and
may be being dragged at depth or on the bottom.
Trolling consists of the use of lines with weights and baited
hooks or lures pulled behind a vessel in open water. Species targeted
using this method include albacore, bonito, halibut and salmon.
Various setups are used depending on the species being targeted.
Trolling activities are wide-ranging as trollers seek out migratory