Fish Tagging Project off the Coast of San Diego

Fishing Vessel Outer Limits out of Mission Bay, San Diego

Have you fished bass along the San Diego coastline, or snorkeled or dove in La Jolla Cove in the past two years? If you have, you probably noticed more than a few calico or sand bass with tags. The Outer Limits along with seven other sport fishing boats and some recreational anglers have had the opportunity to team up with the CoastalAngler Tagging Cooperative.  Its leader Lyall Bellquist works directly with the recreational fishing community, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the San Diego Oceans Foundation to implement an assessment of populations, vital rates, and movement patterns of calico, sand and spotted bay bass.

To date, there has been over 15,700 caught and tagged bass over a two year period. The areas included in the assessment are Imperial Beach, Oceanside, Mission and San Diego Bay, Pt Loma, NW La Jolla, SW La Jolla and La Jolla Cove. What Lyall  Bellquist has found is there is about a 10% recapture rate. Your help is needed in reporting caught, tagged fish. The first recorded recaptures range from two minutes to 2 years and most of the bass remain relatively close to where they were initially caught. There has been two fish, however that have traveled quite far. One sand bass tagged at the San Diego Anglers tournament was released at Shelter Island inside San Diego Bay and traveled to Dana Point. Another fish that was tagged on the Outer Limits while fishing in La Jolla traveled to San Clemente.

The process of tagging the bass is very quick. We have a 8 foot long table that attaches from the bait tank of the boat to the back rail. This is where the recording and tagging is done. Once a bass is caught, its length is recorded in millimeters on a set measuring board.  Next is where the fish was caught depth and G.P.S. coordinates. Most of our bass fishing is done on anchor so it only changes when we reposition the boat. The tag number is then recorded and inserted about 1 inch below its dorsal fin. The inserted end looks like a tag you would find at a clothing store. The visible end has the tag ID number and a phone number to call if captured.

Tagged Fish with Algae Growth
Tagged Fish with Algae Growth

The tagged fish gets set back into the water off the back of the boat and the whole process takes about 20 seconds. The tags will start to grow algae and eventually fall off the fish in about 3 years. With the algae growth the tags are not all that visible so you have to look close.

If you capture a tagged fish there are three ways to report. The easiest method I have found and the one I use is the Catch Reporter app on my smartphone, just download it and you can report your fish on the spot.  Second, you can call the number on the Tag and third, report the tag on the Coastal Angler Tagging Cooperative website   As long as the fish is of legal limit, 14 inches, you are allowed to keep them. If you plan on releasing the fish don’t take the tag out.

Recently tagged fish on board the F/V Outer Limits
Recently tagged fish on board the F/V Outer Limits

In late September we had the opportunity to take out The Coastal Angler Tagging Cooperative and Michael Fowleks from Inside Sportfishing. This trip is about the tagging project and will be featured in a two part series on Inside Sportfishing Sunday, February 8 at 10:30am on Fox Sports West. It will also air on February 10, 14, 15, and 17. For more information, visit

With the warm water our coastline has experienced the last few years San Diego’s coastal bass fishing has been amazing. It is not uncommon for us to have trips where we have the opportunity to catch and release hundreds if not even the possibility of a thousand bass in a day, as long as the conditions are right.

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