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Researchers Ask: "Where Are All of The Males?"

May 7, 2009

A new study from UC Santa Barbara finds, if steps aren’t taken to protect California sheephead fish habitat, there’s a chance overfishing could wipe out the entire male population of the species that’s born female, but can transform into males as they grow larger.

Dr. Jennifer Caselle says the larger "trophy" male sheephead are often targeted by sport fishermen, while the younger female sheephead are targeted by commercial fishermen.

"If you remove enough of the largest individuals and you remove the smaller individuals, you may end up with no individuals reaching the critical size at which they change sex. You could end up with male-less populations."

Researchers also discovered sheephead recover well when fishing pressure is reduced, which Dr. Caselle says is another reason for marine protected areas in the state.

"Inside of the protected areas, sheephead are on average bigger than outside the areas. In addition to being bigger, they’re more numerous. So, we’ve made recommendations that marine protected areas have very good potential for assisting in the recovery of this particular species."

Sheephead are a major ecological player in the kelp forest ecosystem because the fish keep the urchin abundance down, according to researchers. International agencies list the California sheephead as "vulnerable," meaning the species is likely to become endangered unless circumstances improve.

More info at

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA