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Target Species Profiles

Kelp Bass a.k.a. Calico Bass (Paralabrax clathratus)

Kelp BassWritten by: Dr. Larry G. Allen

It's squid time again. This means that some rare opportunities for early season, bull calicos are also here. Although calicos may be taken year 'round by any number of different methods - the really big fish just love that candy bait. But, remember take only what you can eat fresh and carefully release the rest. The calico populations will not be able to take the pounding we are giving it much longer without dire consequences. Here is a brief summary of what we know about this staple of our Southern California recreational fishing fleet.

SCIENTIFIC NAME - Paralabrax clathratus, family Serranidae (sea basses)

COMMON NAMES - Calico bass, bull bass, cabrilla (Mexico)

DISTRIBUTION - Kelp bass have ranged historically as far north as the mouth of the Columbia River and south to Bahia Magdalena, Baja Cailfornia, Mexico. However, they are rare north of Pt. Conception. They are abundant in southern California waters including the shores all of the Channel Islands. They are typically found in shallow water (surface to 150 ft.) being closely associated with just about any kind of structure, including kelp.

SIZE & AGE - To 28.5 inches and 14.5 pounds. The oldest known kelp bass was 34 years old and 25 inches long. They are relatively slow growing sea bass with average size at age being represented by the following graph:

Length at Age Relationship 

Baby kelp bass can be 4 inches after one year and are about 12 inches (legal size) at 6 years.  As with most fishes, growth is highly variable though with the largest fish not necessarily being the oldest. The world record kelp bass (14.5 lb.) caught by Tom Murphy off Newport Beach in 1995 was 27 years old while a 9.5 lb. fish caught by Jim Cvitanovich at San Clemente Island in 1993 was 34 years old. Kelp bass are "slow to grow - so let' em go".

DIET - Small fishes (including anchovies, sardines, surfperch, queenfish), squid, octopus, crabs, shrimps, and amphipods.

REPRODUCTION - Kelp bass mature between 7 and 10.5 inches in length and about 3 to 5 years. Kelp bass form breeding aggregations in deeper water off of kelp heads and rocky headlands. Spawning occurs in these aggregations from April through November peaking in the summer months. Kelp bass lay pelagic (floating) eggs which enter the plankton in coastal waters. During spawning, high-contrast, black and white individuals with yellow-orange snouts are males. Fish with golden hues and yellow chins and jaws are usually females.

FISHERY - Kelp bass which are popularly referred to as calico bass are one of the most important nearshore recreational species in the waters off of Southern and Baja California. The California Department of Fish and Game estimates that as many as 1,000,000 calico bass may be taken each year by private boats and commercial passenger fishing vessels (CPFV - in other words - party boats).

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