Overview of the Fishery Ocean whitefish, Caulolatilus princeps, belongs to the tilefish family, Malacanthidae, and is the only representative of this family found off California except for rare occurrences of Pacific golden-eyed tilefish, C. affinis. It is primarily a southern California species, frequently found in association with members of the rockfish family, Scorpaenidae, and California sheephead.
Common names for ocean whitefish include blanquillo and pez blanco. Ocean whitefish are found in loosely aggregated schools near high-relief seafloor structures such as shallow banks, rocky reefs, and kelp beds. They prefer offshore islands to the mainland coast and are abundant at Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara, Santa Catalina, and San Clemente Islands. Otoliths (earbones) of ocean whitefish found in kitchen middens at San Clemente Island indicate that this fish was an important food source for Native Americans.
Presently, peak landings occur during late winter and spring for both recreational and commercial fisheries. Estimated recreational landings have been significantly higher than commercial landings over the last two decades. The Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS) estimates recreational catch from all modes of fishing: shore-based, commercial passenger fishing vessels (CPFVs), and private or rental boats. MRFSS catch estimates for 1980 through 1989 and 1993 through 2001 show average recreational landings of approximately 173,000 lb per year for all modes of fishing combined.
In contrast, commercial landings from 1980 through 2001 ranged from a low of about 700 lb in 1985 to a high of nearly 51,000 lb in 1994, but have averaged about 11,000 lb per year. Recreational landings peaked three times during the last two decades: approximately 297,000 lb in 1986, nearly 304,000 lb in 1995, and slightly over 249,000 lb in 1999 (Figure 12.1). These peaks follow El Niño events in 1982-1984, 1992, and 1997, and may represent increased reproductive success off California due to warmer El Niño waters.
The recreational fishery uses baited hook-and-line gear, and the daily bag limit is 10 ocean whitefish per day, per angler. Ocean whitefish are relatively easy and enjoyable to catch, usually challenging anglers with an exciting fight. MRFSS data indicate nearly all ocean whitefish are caught from boats, with CPFVs accounting for 66% of the recreational catch on average. CPFV logbooks show an increase in landings since 1960 with a peak of over 144,000 fish in 2000. The majority of ocean whitefish taken on CPFVs are caught at the Channel Islands and offshore banks near San Clemente Island. Most of these fish are between 1.5 to 3.5 years of age.