As the fallout from the oil spill continues to emerge in southern Orange County, concerns about the safety of wildlife continue to arise.
Among the businesses disrupted or closed by the spill is 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 in conservation efforts.
In recent years, the club has received an annual shipment of baby white bars, so beloved for their taste that they almost died out.
Spawned by mature giant sea bass in San Diego – some up to 7 feet long – 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 to the wild.
The fish can range from Mexican waters to Alaskan waters, although they are not often seen north of San Francisco. They can live at least 13 years and inhabit a variety of habitats like reefs and kelp beds and have a preferred diet of Pacific mackerel and Pacific sardines.
Through decades of population recovery efforts, which include contributions from nurseries in four locations in Orange County, the fish have rebounded in population.
“The fish have made an incredible recovery to the point where they can be fished commercially again,” said Dave Edmondson, club board member and director of the local fish conservation program.
But this year there will be no fish.
“We are lucky we didn’t have any when the oil spilled,” Edmondson said.
The lot is typically around 7,500 baby bass, and without the latest delivery to Orange County nurseries, Edmondson estimates there will be 20,000 fewer fish introduced this year.
The program, carried out in conjunction with the non-profit organization Hubbs Sea World, has successfully returned the species to the waters in sufficient quantities to be fished.
New plans are also pending. The fishing club expected to help feed the baby halibut, a different and smaller species from its bottom-feeding cousin that inhabit the cold waters of Alaska. This program, frozen in Orange County, will continue as planned in San Diego. White bass will also continue to rehabilitate its population in other areas, but as port closures in Newport Beach loom, water safety remains a major concern.
“We will just pray that our fishery can rebound and that Mother Nature does her job,” he said.
While the port is wide open, the booms are still on standby at low tide to protect the city’s shores. This has prevented commercial fishermen from catching fish and lobsters, which are now in season.
While many of the club’s 500-plus members fish elsewhere, they will eventually want to return to their home shore.
“At this point, there is no open date,” said Edmondson. “We don’t know how long it will be closed.”