IT'S LOOKING LIKE A RECORD SEASON -- THANKS TO EL NINO.
Skippers along California's central coast don't question their success, but they are curious.
Why are this season's albacore so huge and close to shore, and how come the fishing has been so fruitful for so long?
Most years the longfin tuna don't swim within 50 miles of the coast and are usually found 100 miles out or farther, making them difficult to target for sport-fishing boats. If there is a sport season at all, it runs from early summer to late November. And anything heavier than 25 pounds is considered trophy size.
This season was much different. Catches of 40 to 50 pounds and greater were routinely made in the fall and this winter. A pending world record of 90 pounds was boated off Santa Cruz in October and another in the 80-pound class (weighed after it was cleaned, no less) was landed in Bodega Bay. And the run that started in May is still going strong.
Not surprisingly, science says the credit goes to El Nino.
``The albacore distribution has been pushed around a bit this year by the different water masses that have been affected by the El Nino,'' said Norm Bartoo, leader of the tuna and billfish assessment programs for the National Marine Fisheries Service in La Jolla.
``It's very common for near-shore fishing to develop in an El Nino, something we are able to predict with some accuracy.''
Readily identified by their extended pectoral fins, albacore follow bands of 60- to 61-degree water chasing anchovies, sardines and squid, said Jerry Spratt, a Department of Fish and Game biologist with the Monterey office.
Normally, Monterey Bay waters average in the mid-50s and albies are long gone by December. But El Nino has raised area temperatures by 5 degrees or so and skippers are still registering water at 59.5 to 62 degrees.
As for the notion that the longfins are bigger than normal, they're not, according to Bartoo. Fish to 40 and 50 pounds and fatter are usually found among the populations migrating north to Alaska, then west to Asia, south to the equator and back to the West Coast. Large specimens showed up in fish counts this season - especially from late October on, when consistent runs of 30-pound fish and heftier typically appear - because more albacore are more accessible to more anglers. (The average weight of commercial fish caught this year was 16 pounds, Bartoo said.)
Biologists note one species of albacore, or Thunnus alalunga in the Pacific but two major populations, separated, approximately, by the equator.
The Northern Pacific fish are thought to spawn in an area from the Northern Philippines to about Hawaii, though it's a subject that is not well documented.
Occasionally albacore swim within reach of the Southern California sport-fishing fleet, as they did this year, when more than 60,000 longfins were boated. The top sport production of albies in the Southland was 229,314 in 1962, according to DFG records.
Veteran anglers recall the remarkable run of early November 1984, when several world-record albacore were caught during a two-week period in and around the San Pedro Channel. Three International Game Fish Association standards for fish in the 70-pound range still stand. The state record is a 79-pounder caught in October 1985 at Santa Catalina Island.
However, albacore are most often found north of Point Conception, Bartoo noted.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jan 8, 1998|
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