Pacific dog snapper

Todd Bergenbring with his rare catch of a Pacific dog snapper; photo courtesy of Bergenbring

Last year was marked by several peculiar catches off Southern California, thanks to unusual and persistent warm temperatures that allowed exotic species such as yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi, wahoo, and blue marlin to venture much farther north of their typical range.

So deep into winter, however, those species have long since returned to familiar surroundings--notably, off Mexico.

But spear fisherman Todd Bergenbring proved recently that not all of the exotic visitors have gone home. While plying the waters off Palos Verdes in Los Angeles County on December 29, Bergenbring speared a 20-pound Pacific dog snapper.

This rare visitor’s typical northern range is off the southern Baja California peninsula, and in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

"When I came around and I could see the body, I could see that it was short and stout and I thought maybe it was a black seabass," Bergenbring told the Daily Breeze. "I finally got 10 feet away and a little light came through and I could see an orange tint as it started to turn away and I knew immediately what it was and I thought, 'You have got to be kidding me.' "

Environmental scientist Ryan Denton said these fish are rarely found in California.

David Bader, director of education for the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long beach, said in reference to this and other odd catches made during the past several months:

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"I think the biggest story here is that we have a really dynamic biodiversity hot spot here in Southern California. Warm water currents come up, spin around, and bring with them fishes typically found further south and leave them with us. Then we have the California Current drop off northern fish and leave them here with us as well."

Bergenbring, 48, has been freediving with a speargun off Southern California for 21 years and had never seen anything so rare. Hence, he will have the 34-inch fish mounted as a trophy, and prominently displayed.

"This is just unheard of," he told the Daily Breeze. "It's amazing."

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