Redondo Halibut Hatchery may close

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Posted by fred on November 14, 2000 at 09:35:31:

Fish on a different scale
Daily Breeze
By David Zahniser

Sea bass unit thrives as Redondo halibut hatchery flounders.
It's a classic case of rich fish, poor fish.
Two marine facilities operate on the grounds of Redondo Beach's Science Education Adventure Laboratory one for raising halibut, the other for white sea bass. Both were created to replenish the Santa Monica Bay with the two species.
But while the sea bass swim in two lavish indoor tanks with complex filtration systems, the halibut hatchery is on the verge of financial collapse, relying on shallow-water tanks built from rain gutters and PVC pipe.
That seems a shame to Giancarlo Ce trulo, education coordinator for the S.E.A. Laboratory, who says the halibut hatchery, if restored, could be used to bolster the state's gradually dwindling halibut population.
I do not believe the California halibut population is in danger of going extinct. They're not even threatened, Cetrulo said. But they are at lower levels than in the past. The time to save a species is not when it's threatened ... (but) when the population is going down and you have an adequate gene pool from which to sample.
The halibut hatchery attracted publicity earlier this year, when nearly a third of the hatchery's fish including a 50-pounder affectionately known as Big Mama were stolen. The enormous fish had been a key attraction at S.E.A. Laboratory's educational lectures to South Bay schoolchildren.
Although local anglers swung into action by replacing many of the fish, the outpouring of support did not end the hatchery's financial troubles. Now, the operation is down to just two volunteers, with $50,000 to $200,000 needed to rebuild the hatchery.
We're basically closed, said hatchery director Jim Rounds, who once worked full time at the hatchery and now teaches at Redondo Beach's Parras Middle School.
The funding crisis has no direct effect on S.E.A. Laboratory, which provides educational programs for local schoolchildren. But those who raise money for the organization say it will nonetheless FISH/B2 Fish a loss.
The halibut are very important to us, because the children who come to S.E.A. Laboratory will see the halibut as well, said Ann Savage, a fund development director with the California Conservation Corps who raises funds for the lab.
It was 10 years ago that the state Department of Fish and Game decided to cut funding to the halibut facility and focus its resources on sea bass. Far more halibut were swimming off the California coastline than sea bass, so the agency shifted its resources.
The state's commercial and sport anglers take up to 600,000 pounds of white sea bass each year, while 2 million pounds of halibut are caught, said Steve Crooke, senior marine biologist for the Department of Fish and Game.
The halibut resource was much healthier than the white sea bass resource, so the panel agreed that we could only support one program, said Crooke.
Programs funded by the Department of Fish and Game send 10,000 to 60,000 sea bass to the ocean each year, replacing the roughly 26,000 that are taken out of the water, he said.
In Redondo, the white sea bass project releases roughly 45,000 8-inch fish back into the Santa Monica Bay.
After the state pulled back from the halibut hatchery, other funding sources began to disappear, such as the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum and Edison International Corp. AES Corp., which now leases the S.E.A. Laboratory property to Edison, provided stopgap funding for a year but pulled the plug in April.
We gave them a year to line up some funds or come up with a business plan so that they would be an ongoing business, said AES plant manager C.J. Thompson. And it became clear that that wasn't going to happen.
For Rounds, the experience is especially bittersweet, considering the outpouring of support the facility received from local residents earlier this year, after 24-year-old Taras Poznik was convicted of stealing up to $82,000 worth of halibut.
When we had our poaching problem, it really showed the community support for this, from the King Harbor Yacht Club to fishermen to the local community, he said. They saw this as a crime against nature, I guess.
Rounds is still hoping to obtain funding from University of California, Davis to keep the program running. Cetrulo is applying for a state grant to make the halibut hatchery financially viable by bringing in student interns and selling some of the fish possibly for $15 per pound to local restaurants.
It would be a great way to show kids how aquaculture works and give them business management skills, he said.
But it will probably take a year before S.E.A. Laboratory receives the grant funding, then take another two years to raise the fish to 10 pounds. Until then, Cetrulo hopes the operation can continue to hang on.
What will never go away, unless they die, are the large halibut, Cetrulo said. As long as we have those, there is always hope.

Publish Date: Tuesday November 14

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