HUNTINGTON BEACH — About 350 tons of concrete light poles yanked from streets throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties were carried by barge from Long Beach to a point 4 1/2 miles off Bolsa Chica State Beach on Saturday and dumped to the bottom of the sea.
They were the first of about 3,500 tons of poles, removed by Southern California Edison in a street light modernization program, that over the next 12 months will create a substantial addition to an artificial reef being constructed by Southland sport fishermen who are determined to revitalize the fish population.
"Fishing used to be great in Southern California and has been terrible in recent years and is getting worse," said Jim Paulk, a Huntington Beach resident who is president of United Anglers of Southern California.
The thinning of the local fisheries, Paulk said, has been attributed to many factors, including overfishing, pollution and the loss of wetlands to development.
Edison's discarded light poles, which otherwise would have been destined for landfills, will be scattered like pickup sticks on the ocean floor. Marine biologists say the poles will provide excellent footing for plants and barnacles, niches where tiny fish can hide and grow. The reef also will attract larger fish.
"Within a year (the concrete poles) will be teeming with life that will become more and more complex with time, and in 10 to 15 years it will be indistinguishable from a natural reef," said Dennis Bedford, a marine biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game.
Besides raising tens of thousands of dollars to help fund construction of the Bolsa Chica Artificial Reef, United Anglers and its affiliate clubs over the last two years have been financing, building and operating facilities to raise white sea bass, a tasty and popular sporting fish that has sharply declined in Southern California waters over the last 30 years.
Tiny white sea bass are kept in an underwater pen in Newport Harbor and fed by volunteers from the Balboa Angling Club. The containment is designed to protect them from birds, sea lions and other predators. Officials of another club, the Dana Angling Club, said that within a week they will complete construction of another facility and place it in Dana Point Harbor.
These and similar protective pens that fishermen have placed in Marina del Rey, Oxnard, Catalina and Redondo Beach will grow fish that have been bred from brood stock at Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute in San Diego. And there are plans for more, Paulk said, including two pens in Huntington Harbor.
State officials say sport fishermen are playing a valuable role in the white sea bass replenishment effort. "The sport fishermen have supported this program from the very beginning and without them this would not have happened," said Michael Domeier, head of Fish and Game's sport fish research group, which is monitoring the effectiveness of the artificial breeding program.
"It is the first time on the West Coast that local ocean fish populations have been enhanced by artificial means," said Bob Denault, a hardware store chain executive and president of the Dana Angling Club.
White sea bass take five years to reach the length of 28 inches required for legal fishing, so it will take time for local fishermen to see an improvement in their sea bass catch. "It will probably be the year 2000 before we see any significant return on this part of the investment," Paulk said.
Great patience and perseverance have also been required to create the Bolsa Chica Artificial Reef, said Russ Izor, a veteran sport fishing boat owner from Torrance who is considered the father of the reef.
Izor said that a decade ago he won a struggle to obtain approval of the project from the U.S. Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and California Coastal Commission. Construction of the reef began in 1986, with an initial deposit of 5,000 tons of concrete highway rubble.
"It has not only provided an amazing amount of recreational fishing for people from Newport Beach to San Pedro, but it has also provided a habitat for big families of fish who were wandering in a void," Izor said. "A fishery needs a place to hang their hat like anyone else."
The Bolsa Chica reef is part of a system of 35 artificial reefs that since the 1950s have been built to promote sporting fish, said Bedford of the Fish and Game Department. "A lot of very popular fish for sport fishing are associated with rocky habitat where they may hide, reproduce or feed," depending on the species, he said. Artificial reefs have been created in Orange County off the coasts of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, he said.
The placement of these reefs is strategically significant, he said, because there is no naturally occurring rocky coastline between the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Laguna Beach and "there is a tremendous amount of fishing pressure" from Southern California sport fishermen.