Sport-fishing boat in La Jolla Cove tags bass for sustainability study

By Will Bowen

On three occasions in late October, the Seaforth sport fishing boat, Sea Watch, was spotted by astonished swimmers, divers, kayakers and shore onlookers as its crew fished in the marine reserve that surrounds La Jolla Cove, where for the past 40 years fishing has not been allowed.

Tagging regulars Chris Smith and Howard Hada. Photos by Will Smith

It was all perfectly legal, however, because the fishing boat, skippered by Captain Kris Kaprow was on a Fish & Wildlife-approved scientific research project, headed up by Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO) graduate student Lyall Bellquist.

Bellquist, a graduate of Torrey Pines High School, was awarded a $240,000 grant to study and tag bass in and around the marine reserves from Imperial Beach to Oceanside. So far, Bellquist has made some 40 trips on sport boats and numerous other excursions on smaller power boats to catch and tag 7000 calico bass and 2000 sand and spotted bay bass.

“I grew up in San Diego and loved to go fishing as a kid. My education taught me to think more seriously about the bays and the ocean so that we could make sure it was sustainable for the future,” she said.

In addition to tagging bass, Bellquist has been taking tissue samples and measuring other species of fish, such as rockfish and sheephead, which are not tagged, but are likewise released. Seventeen anglers from the public sector are invited along on each sport boat trip to catch the fish. All interested anglers are given an equal opportunity to sign up after e-mails are sent out and dates posted on Facebook and Bellquist’s fish- tagging website.

The goal of the tagging research is to try to determine the population and movement patterns of bass, which are the most important recreational fish along the coasts and in bays. The tissue samples are for genetic analysis to help determine how fish populations, such as those Point Loma kelp and La Jolla kelp beds are related.

The samples are also analyzed for isotopes that provide information on what the fish are eating and how they fit into the food web. All results will help Fish & Wildlife better manage marine preserves and open waterways to insure there will always be an abundance of fish.

“It is important that we go into the reserves, such as at the Cove, and see how the fish are doing here. The fish and marine habitat of the Cove and La Jolla Kelp are an important part of what makes La Jolla such an attractive place for sportsmen, visitors, and tourists, and we want to insure its viability,”  Bellquist said.

Bellquist has guided the Sea Watch into the Cove marine reserve six times already and has plans for three more trips there, scheduled for next spring. He also has tagged fish in the new reserve at the south end of La Jolla kelp.

Lyall Bellquist shows off a tissue sample vial and tagging gun.

“While we were in the Cove reserve, we had a number of swimmers and kayakers come right up to the boat and inquire about what we were doing there,” he said. “Some people couldn’t believe that we were there for research purposes. But most became supportive once we explained our mission. One swimmer even told us where we could find some bass to tag!”

Bellquist said that the safety of others using the preserve is their primary concern.  “We work with the lifeguards and always stay clear of the swim lanes,” he noted.

Chris Smith, who works for Boeing Network and Space Systems, is one of the fishermen on the sport boats with Bellquist to tag fish. He drives down from Portola Hills in Orange County and has been on eight trips.

“I go on a tagging trip and then afterward, take my daughter, Erin, a student at University of San Diego, out to dinner,”  Smith said. “I think it is great that we are finally studying our bass population, which is the main stay of sports fishing here in Southern California.”

Chris Varond, owner of Varond Design Group of Sorrento Valley, is an architect who likes to fish. Varond is known for designing the elegant house at the northwest corner of Prospect and Torrey Pines Road. “I sign up for tagging trips because they are a good cause. It is important that our fishing, which is some of the best in the whole country, is not over exploited,” Varond said.

Kim Martin, the former owner and head chef at Chez Loma French restaurant in Coronado, is another one of Bellquist’s volunteer tagging fisherman.

“I feel honored to have the opportunity to fish in the Cove as part of a scientific research project that will have long range benefit. It is so beautiful there, catching fish 50-100 yards from La Jolla Caves.”

Bellquist, like many who live or work in the La Jolla area, is also concerned about the foul odors noticed at the Cove lately.

Michelle Fonoimoana drove from San Pedro to fish a tagging charter.

“The seals, sea lions, cormorants and pelicans responsible for the smell are vital parts of the marine ecosystem of the Cove and kelp beds, and something people love to observe. What is important is that we have the right numbers of each of these species so the entire ecosystem is in balance,” Bellquist said. “The Cove has been a reserve for many years, so the sea lion population probably has risen from what it was in former times, and that would explain the increase in odor from increased waste matter. The pelicans and cormorants are focused on catching small bait fish, such as anchovies and sardine. Their droppings contribute nutrients to the waters, which feed the microorganism lower in the food chain and that’s good. But when they go on the rocks, that just adds to the problem.

“Trying to have the right numbers of each species, be it fish, fowl, or mammal, is what sound management is all about. Having the right numbers will help insure that the marine ecosystem that we all love, and which makes La Jolla such a beautiful place to visit or live in, will always be there.”

For more about tagging charters or to see results of the studies, visit or see “Coastal Angler Tagging Cooperative” on Facebook.

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Posted by Staff on Nov 15, 2013. Filed under Featured Story, Health & Science, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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