Grunion Run Offers Opportunity to Witness Annual Fish Ritual
• Malibu's New Marine Protected Areas Are Off-Limits for Fishing Activity Open for Observation
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The grunion are coming. For a couple of hours following the highest night tide of each full or new moon from March to June, the California grunion—a silvery fish that rarely grows to be more than five or six inches long—comes ashore to spawn on sandy beaches from Point Conception to Punta Abreojos in Baja California.
Even many longtime residents have never seen this almost mythical fish, but when conditions are right certain Malibu beaches can be covered in a shimmering carpet of glittering fish, as the grunion leave the water to lay their eggs in the wet sand.
According to the California Department of Fish and Game, "The spawning season extends from late February or early March to August or early September, varying slightly in length from year to year. Actual spawning runs are restricted to relatively few hours during this period. Grunion spawn only on three or four nights after the highest tide associated with each full or new moon and then only for a one to three hour period each night following high tide."
This year's grunion run officially begins on Thursday, March 8, 9:20-11:20 p.m.
In Malibu, Zuma, Point Dume and Surfrider are frequently good grunion run beaches, although grunion runs are not consistent from year to year and there may be many fish or none at all.
"Spawning runs typically begin with single fish swimming in with a wave... Gradually, more and more fish come in with the waves and by swimming against the outflowing wave, strand themselves until the beach is covered by a blanket of grunion," a DFG document states.
"Spawning normally starts about 20 minutes after the first fish appear on the beach. Typically a run lasts one to three hours, but the number of fish on the beach at any given moment can vary from none, to thousands."
Grunion hunting became so popular that the species was allegedly on its way to extinction by 1920. According to the DFG, "a regulation was passed in 1927 establishing a closed season of three months, from April through June. The fishery improved and in 1947 the closure was shortened to April through May." The three-month closure is still in effect to protect grunion during their peak spawning period.
Despite "local concentrations," the DFG concludes that "grunion are not abundant," and the life history of grunion while at sea is still not well known. Loss of spawning habitat caused by beach erosion, coastal armoring, construction, and pollution impact the species.
Many grunion enthusiasts prefer to observe rather than catch grunion and, for the first year, grunion take is now completely prohibited in the newly implemented Marine Protected Areas in Malibu, which extend from the western end of Paradise Cove to El Matador Beach.
However, for those who enjoy catching—and eating—grunion, the DFG advises that "During the open season, a fishing license is required for persons 16 years and older to capture grunion. Grunion may be taken by sport fishermen using their hands only. No holes may be dug in the beach to entrap grunion. There is no bag limit, but fishermen may take only what they can use—it is unlawful to waste fish."
Flashlights, warm clothes, silence and patience are recommended for all grunion seekers.
Malibuites who are interested in participating in grunion research can email their observations to www.grunion.org, a grunion research project developed by Pepperdine University professor Karen Martin.
A full list of potential grunion run dates and times from March to August is available at www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/grunion.asp.