LA COUNTY – After much debate amongst fishery scientists, a new species of saltwater bass has been informally recognized following the capture of a unique specimen.
Fishing off a beach near Malibu in LA County, angler John German latched into what he thought was a standard model striped bass. After an intense battle, the angler beached the specimen but it was soon clear that this was something a little bit different from the ordinary striper. The fact that it had spots and some odd coloration was the big clue, but little more than that was apparent on first inspection.
A DNA test provided a further indication as to its parentage, with some surprising results. John’s striper was a unique hybrid of a striped bass (Morone saxatilis) and spotted bay bass (Paralabrax maculatofasciatus) – something not seen before by fishery scientist, Dr Harry Thompson of Pacific Aquatic Laboratories, who tested a fin clipping at his LA-based facility.
“This is a unique specimen and a one-off, likely caused by the intermingling of eggs and milt from both species in one of the estuaries where both are known to breed. Hybrids like this are rare but not unheard of, with striped bass occasionally hybridizing with other bass species such as white bass. This specimen shared DNA between both species,” explained Dr Thompson.
The striped bass x spotted bay (or sand) bass hybrid – now officially known as a ‘stray bass’, or ‘zebra bass’ – was caught on a small grub rigged on a light Carolina rig close to shore. “It sure put up a great fight – just like a big striper,” said captor John German, who has caught both saltwater bass species before but never a hybrid like this.
“But when we got it on the beach, it was clear that this was no ordinary striped bass, so I took a small fin clipping before returning the fish and sent the sample to a fishery scientist friend, who passed it to Dr Thompson for sampling. I couldn’t believe it when I learnt about its crazy parentage!”
Speculation that increasing numbers of striped bass in Sothern California will lead to similar hybrids are off the mark, however, according to Dr Thompson. “Wild-bred hybrids are rare in most species and this is likely a fluke occurrence, but still one that opens the possibility of other future striped bass hybrids, however unlikely. But this specimen is unlikely to reproduce naturally in the wild.”
“In this case, there was some considerable debate about whether this can be classified as a new species or not, but with hybrids like the wipers – a striper-white bass hybrid – and meanmouth bass – a largemouth-smallmouth bass hybrid – now officially recognized by many record bodies and fisheries, it’s safe to say that the ‘stray bass’ is now part of that unique family.”
The angler has lodged a record claim with CDFW but, with the unique nature of the ‘stray bass’, it looks unlikely to be accepted as there is no category for a hybrid of this type, unless submitted on April 1st. A suggested scientific name of Aprilius Bassofoolius has been put forward by Dr Thompson.