As the fallout of the oil spill continues to dawn on south Orange County, concerns over wildlife safety continue to come into focus.
Among the businesses disrupted or shut down down by the spill has been the Balboa Island Angling Club. At nearly 100 years old, the club is one of the oldest on the west coast and has, for years, put its weight behind conservation efforts.
In recent years, the club has received an annual delivery of baby white sea bass, so popular for its taste that it was nearly fished into extinction.
Spawned by mature, giant sea bass in San Diego — some as large as 7 feet long — the baby fish are delivered to the Balboa Island Angling Club each October. Volunteers feed the fish in protected crates until they are 13 to 15 inches long and ready to be introduced into the wild.
The fish can range anywhere from Mexican to Alaskan waters, although they aren’t often seen north of San Francisco. They can live at least 13 years and inhabit various habitats like reefs and kelp beds and have a preferred diet of Pacific mackerel and Pacific sardines.
Through several decades of population recovery efforts, which includes contributions from nurseries in four Orange County locations, the fish has rebounded in population.
“The fish has made an amazing recovery to the point where it can be commercially fished again,” said Dave Edmondson, a board member for the club and director of the local fish conservation program.
But this year, there will be no fish.
“We’re lucky we didn’t have any when the oil spilled,” Edmondson said.
The batch is usually about 7,500 baby sea bass, and without the latest delivery to Orange County nurseries, Edmondson estimates there will be 20,000 fewer fish introduced this year.
The program, done in concert with the nonprofit Hubbs Sea World, has successfully returned the species to the waters in sufficient quantities to be fished.
New plans are also on hold. The fishing club had expected to help nurture baby halibut, a different, smaller species from its bottom-feeding cousin that calls cold Alaskan waters home. That program, frozen in Orange County, will continue as planned in San Diego. White bass will also continue their population rehab in other areas, but as harbor closures in Newport Beach loom, water safety remains a top concern.
“We’ll just pray our fishery is able to rebound and mother nature does her job,” he said
While the harbor is largely open, booms are still on standby during low tide to protect city shores. That has prevented commercial fishers from hauling in fish and lobsters, which are now in season.
While many of the more than 500 club members are fishing elsewhere, they’ll eventually want to return to their home shore.
“At this point, there’s no open date,” Edmondson said. “There’s no telling how long it will be shut down.”