Ecological Archives A017-037-A4

Julie B. Kellner, Irene Tetreault, Steven D. Gaines, and Roger M. Nisbet. 2007. Fishing the line near marine reserves in single and multispecies fisheries. Ecological Applications 17:1039–1054.

Appendix D. Review of research investigating movement patterns of kelp bass and California sheephead.

The empirical studies of movement patterns for adult kelp bass (Paralabrax clathratus) and California sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher) include large tag-recapture investigations in the 1950’s and 1960’s by the Department of Fish and Game, smaller-scale tag-recapture efforts on natural and artificial reefs in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and acoustic telemetry studies in the 2000’s. Studies investigating movement patterns of kelp bass and California sheephead do not provide a definitive comparison of relative movement rates between these two species.

The California Department of Fish and Game conducted several large tagging efforts beginning in the 1950’s on important nearshore game species. Collyer and Young (1953) tagged 4,172 kelp bass (Paralabrax clathratus) from 1950 to 1952 at mainland and island sites in southern California and Mexico. Fish were captured by hook and line, tagged, and recaptured by local fishermen resulting in 490 recoveries, most recaptured within 60 days. More than 80% of the recaptures moved less than a few hundred m, 5% moved up to 6 km, 3% moved more than 8 km one fished moved 27 km. Young (1963) tagged 5,817 kelp bass from 1950 to 1957 on the southern California mainland and islands and recovered 458 fish. Of those recaptures, 79% moved less than 2 km, 14% moved 2 to 8 km, 3% 8 to 16 km, 2% moved 16 to 40 km, 2% moved 40 to 450 km. Quast (1968) reviewed Limbaugh (1955), who conducted a tag-recapture study of kelp bass from 1948-1954. Quast (1968) found that recaptures approached the zero asymptote at about 860 m, which he concluded to be a reasonable estimate for maximum range. These large, multi-year tag-recapture studies found that most kelp bass remained near the tagging sight, but approximately 20% traveled further than 1.6 km, as far as 450 km, and a few moved from the Channel Islands in southern California to the mainland.

Small-scale studies of reef fish in southern California demonstrate that both kelp bass and California sheephead exhibit site fidelity. Research comparing site fidelity between these two species in southern California suggests that California sheephead exhibit greater fidelity to artificial reefs than kelp bass (Johnson et al. 1994, n = 131 kelp bass, n = 51 California sheephead). As piscivores (a secondary carnivore), kelp bass have greater resource requirements than California sheephead (a primary carnivore), thus kelp bass may be more likely to leave a crowded or resource-limited environment and establish a new home range than California sheephead.

Home range and site fidelity of these species have recently been examined within the CMLR using acoustic telemetry over a relatively small area (0.13 km2). Lowe et al. (2003) and Topping et al. (2005) reported high variation of movement distances among individuals for both species, with average home range size and maximum linear distance traveled per day larger for California sheephead than for kelp bass. Mean home range size for kelp bass was 3,349 ± 3,328 m2 (range 33 to 11,224 m2) and California sheephead mean home range size was 15,134 ± 26,007 m2 (range 938 to 82,070 m2). However, a t test found no significant difference between home range sizes for these species due to the high variability in movements among individuals and small sample sizes (means logged transformed, df = 1, 26, F = 2.604, P = 0.119). Further examination of Lowe et al. (2003) and Topping et al. (2005) indicates that kelp bass and California sheephead have variable home range sizes depending on habitat type within the CMLR. For kelp bass, mean home range size was larger in the Cove (4,636 m2, n = 9) and smaller along the Outer Wall (1,132 m2, n = 3); for California sheephead mean home range size was smaller in the Cove (3,249 m2, n = 10) but larger along the Outside Wall (35,600 m2, n = 6). Thus, home range sizes varied according to habitat type, but not consistently. The maximum linear distance traveled per day also varied greatly among individuals, for kelp bass the mean was 110 ± 68 m (range 15 to 220 m, n = 12, Lowe et al. 2003), and for California sheephead the mean was 205 ± 191 m (range 61 to 848 m, n = 16, Topping et al. 2005).

Lowe et al. (2003) also used an acoustic monitoring array to assess longer-term site fidelity of kelp bass and reported that several kelp bass (not included in the acoustic telemetry calculations for linear distance) traveled over 1 km, with at least one fish making directed movements. Their observations suggest that kelp bass exhibit site fidelity, but are likely to make excursions of sizeable distances from their core home range. While Lowe et al. (2003) reported these long distance movements of kelp bass in a supplementary study using different tracking techniques from their calculations of site fidelity, inclusion of this behavior would likely increase their estimates of home range size and maximum distance traveled per day for this species.

The observations of long distance movements of kelp bass in Lowe et al. (2003) are in agreement with earlier work by Collyer and Young (1953), Young (1963) (described above) and Love (1996). Collyer and Young (1953) and Young (1963) of the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) conducted large multi-year studies (combined n = 9989) and documented occasional long-distance moves by kelp bass, and Love (1996) reported observations of kelp bass aggregations making directed movements, which may be associated with spawning behavior. The two DFG studies reported that most fish remained near the tagging sight and few kelp bass moved from the Channel Islands to the southern California mainland. Despite this apparent high site fidelity, approximately 20% of the tagged individuals traveled further than 1.6 km from their original tagging site, and as far as 450 km.

Although direct comparisons between both species were rare and some results were inconsistent, it appears that kelp bass are more likely to make long-distance movements and home range relocations than California sheephead.


Collyer, R. D., and P. H. Young. 1953. Progress report on a study of the kelp bass, Paralabrax clathratus. Fish Bulletin 39:191–208.

Johnson, T. D., A. M. Barnett, E. E. DeMartini, L. L. Craft, R. F. Ambrose, and L. J. Purcell. 1994. Fish Production and Habitat Utilization on a Southern California Artificial Reef. Bulletin of Marine Science 55:709–723.

Limbaugh, C. 1955. Fish life in the kelp beds and the effects of kelp harvesting. Institute of Marine Resources, University of California La Jolla, IMR Reference 55-9, 158 p.

Love, M. S. 1996. Probably more than you wanted to know about fishes of the Pacific Coast. Really Big Press, Santa Barbara, California, USA.

Lowe, C. G., D. T. Topping, D. P. Cartamil, and Y. P. Papastamatiou. 2003. Movement patterns, home range, and habitat utilization of adult kelp bass Paralabrax clathratus in a temperate no-take marine reserve. Marine Ecology Progress Series 256:205–216.

Quast, J. C. 1968. Observations on the food and biology of the kelp bass, Paralabrax clathratus with notes on its sportfishery at San Diego, California. California Department of Fish and Game Fish Bulletin 139:81–108.

Topping, D. T., C. G. Lowe, and J. E. Caselle. 2005. Home range and habitat utilization of adult California sheephead, Semicossyphus pulcher (Labridae), in a temperate no-take marine reserve. Marine Biology 147:301–311.

Young, P. H. 1963. The kelp bass (Paralabrax clathratus) and its fishery, 1947–1958. Fish Bulletin 122:1–67.

[Back to A017-037]