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OC man cited for spearing giant sea bass, a protected species, off Dana Point

Giant sea bass
Giant sea bass

A Corona Del Mar man got nailed for nailing the wrong fish: a protected giant sea bass, which he speared late last week off Dana Point, state officials said.

According to a statement by the Department of Fish and Game, 30-year-old Scott Carlton was busted after a “concerned citizen” saw the caught fish and “took a photo of the man and his catch, then notified a nearby CHP officer. The CHP detained Carlton, and notified DFG dispatch.”

Officials say Carlton was spearfishing Friday evening around 7:30 p.m. at Salt Creek Beach when he killed the giant sea bass, also known as a black sea bass.

The fish are considered “critically endangered,” meaning very close to extinction, and are a protected species under California law. Fishing them is a misdemeanor, although a San Diego Union-Tribune story from a few years ago says the crime can lead to fines ranging from $680 to $2,000 and even jail time.

Carlton told the DFG official who came to cite him, identified as Warden Justin Sandvig, that he had no idea the fish were off-limits. But “Ignorance of the law is no excuse, especially when poaching state-protected species,” said Capt. Dan Sforza of DFG’s Law Enforcement Division. “Giant sea bass are endeared my many ocean enthusiasts because of their size and docile nature.”

The creatures can grow to enormous size -- up to seven feet long and 500 pounds -- but they reproduce, and grow, very slowly, according to biologists. As a result, they have been slow to bounce back from overfishing.

The size of the fish Carlton caught on Friday was not stated. DFG officials were not immediately available for comment.

Wikipedia states that “Giant sea bass were once a relatively common inhabitant of Southern California waters, yet in the 1980s, it was facing the threat of local extinction off the California coast.”

As happened Friday, people will go out of their way to keep others in line when it comes to protecting the sea bass. In the story out of San Diego, fellow fishermen were outraged that someone had speared a 171-pound giant sea bass. “He makes us look like a bunch of idiots,” one said.