Kelp forests, flying fish possibly on verge of comeback in Avalon

Airborne species aren’t yet expected to soar through the sky around Catalina Island in big numbers.

AVALON ― Tourists and marine enthusiasts once flocked to Catalina Island to witness large numbers of flying fish emerge from the water and pierce the air surrounding a 50-foot power catamaran cruising across the channel just after sunset on any given night.

The numbers of flying fish quickly diminished, however, as warming waters surrounding Catalina Island caused once plentiful kelp forests to all but disappear. No kelp forests meant the flying fish would no longer be found near the Catalina coast. Capt. John King, who offered flying fish tours aboard his catamaran, Catallac, took fewer trips before outsourcing the offering altogether.

The flying fish were not back last summer like they were before, King said. Accordingly he leased out his catamaran for flying fish tours to the Santa Catalina Island Company.

“I just decided [to lease the boat to Santa Catalina Island Company], because we didn’t have a lot of the flying fish since the kelp was pretty much wiped out in 2014,” King, who runs Afishinados Charters and Catallac Tours, said. “On our tours, we love to give them a good show. For a number of years, we pretty much could guarantee you were going to see 400 to 500 flying fish. Since October 2014, we really have reduced expectations. Now you would have to look hard to see even 50 of them.”

When El Niño brought warmer temperatures to the local waters it caused a lot of the kelp to die. The kelp thrives in cold water but was diminishing around Catalina Island due to the warmer water. The flying fish rely on the kelp to spawn and attach their eggs.

The flying fish did return as did the kelp according to Capt. Alison Osinski, owner of Aquatic Consulting Services in Avalon.

“The kelp disappeared a year ago because of the warm temperature of the water. It’s back. Kelp grows. It’s a very fast growing plant. It didn’t get wiped out totally, but it’s certainly growing back,” Osinski stated.

There is a regrowth of kelp, King agreed, but he is not seeing the lush forest of kelp as there was in the past.

When the flying fish were plentiful and he was providing the night tours, it was not uncommon for the fish to fly right onto the boat. If a passenger got hit by a flying fish, they were given a free t-shirt.

“Three years ago, we gave away 24 t-shirts in one season and last year only 11 shirts were given away,” King stated.

King does not expect to see more flying fish this summer, as cooler water hasn’t yet returned.

It remains to be seen what the upcoming season for flying fish will bring, which begins in May or June.

Meanwhile King’s Afishinados Charters will begin offering a new charter service for couples, thanks to a waterside permit approved by the Avalon City Council on Feb. 21.

Couples specifically will be able to rent a private charter for two aboard a 14-foot skiff to cruise around Catalina Island.

“We are primarily a fishing charter business, but we get people who want to go and cruise up to Two Harbors,” King told The Log. “We are going to experiment this year and offer [a 14-foot skiff] as an alternative.”

The City Council’s permit approval allows Afishinados to add a third boat to its charter business.

“Having been doing this since 2002, we continually get calls from couples and they’re looking to get out on the water. It is very expensive for two people to charter a 40-foot boat, which can handle up to six people,” King stated. “Our big 50-foot boat is more of a tour boat for sunset cruises, happy hour cruises, that kind of thing. If people want to fish or just get out on the water and look for birds or dolphins, we do that too.”

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