Posted by . on July 05, 2001 at 20:53:07:
One of Bob Meistrell's great thrills is diving off the coast of Catalina Island and swimming with the giant black sea bass.
They are spectacular fish to see underwater, Meistrell said.
They are like puppy dogs. When you see a 350-pound fish swim by, it's unbelievable.
That's why the Body Glove International and Dive 'N Surf co-founder is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone who kills a giant sea bass in California.
The offer comes following the June 12 discovery of a 350-pound fish swimming with a spear stuck in its body, and others with gashes and nicks on their scales that some diving enthusiasts believe came from attacks by spear fishermen.
State law prohibits fishing for giant sea bass, a protected fish that can grow to 6 feet long and 400 pounds, and live to be 100 years old.
I'm really puckered, Meistrell said. They should put zero tolerance on this. I can't imagine anybody spearing anything that tame.
State Department of Fish and Game authorities have stepped up patrols around Catalina Island, stopping and talking to boaters and divers to spread the word that fishing for giant sea bass is illegal.
No one should target them, said Lt.
Chris Graff, skipper of the agency's patrol boat, Thresher.
Some knucklehead speared one and the shaft is hanging out of the fish, Graff said.
I've made this a high priority to show high visibility. We are asking for the assistance of the local divers in the area to help us keep an eye on (the fish) while they're doing their breeding.
Steve Madaras, who operates Catalina Scuba Luv, took a photograph of the fish.
I was totally outraged, Madaras said.
I've been filming these guys for four years.
It's real devastating when you start seeing holes in them.
Giant sea bass are not an endangered species, but have been protected in California since 1982 because of their dwindling numbers.
The fish are so large and tame around humans, targeting them for spear fishing is not even a challenge.
It's full-blown poaching for someone to do this, Graff said. There's no mistaking a fish that size for any other fish.
It was a person that had nothing else in mind other than to poach.
Diving to view and photograph the fish is a popular Catalina Island attraction, and they traditionally spawn about 40 to 60 feet below the surface, said Steve Crooke, a Fish and Game senior marine biologist.
This year, Madaras said, the fish are rising to 25 feet deep and are close enough for snorkelers to see.
Although some Fish and Game authorities suspect the spearing was an isolated incident and that the scratches on some fish were caused as they rubbed against rocks during spawning, Graff and his crew aboard the 58-foot Thresher patrolled Catalina four days last week, contacting people aboard more than 100 boats.
Graff said his crew also spoke with operators of diving businesses to urge them to educate their customers about giant sea bass, and that anyone taking one can be cited and fined.
Graff said a diver noticed on Saturday that the spear had fallen out of the fish's body and the wound was healing.
Meistrell, a co-founder of the Catalina Conservancy, said his goal is to keep the giant sea bass alive for generations to come.
Be gentle to them, he said.
That's really a thrill for a cheap price.
Although giant sea bass are protected in California, they can be fished south of the United States border in Mexico.
Commercial fishermen who use gill nets more than three miles off the California coast may take one giant sea bass if it is caught incidentally, said Rob Collins, the state Department of Fish and Game's near shore ecosystem coordinator in Monterey.
Anyone who sees illegal activity involving either fish should contact the Department of Fish and Game at 888-334-2258.
Body Glove, which Meistrell co-owns with his brother, Bill, can be contacted at 310-374-3441, Ext. 207.
Besides giant sea bass, Garibaldi, a bright orange fish, also are protected from fishing.
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