The first big surf of the summer season wiped out the city's first stingray fishing derby, sending the barb-tailed fish scurrying for cover beyond reach of 210 anglers taking part in the weekend event.
The Great Stingray Fishout was intended to thin the burgeoning offshore stingray population, which numbers in the thousands. The event was prompted by more than 200 stingray attacks reported during the summer by local beach-goers.
But with 4- to 6-foot surf pounding the shoreline during the Saturday contest, only 31 stingrays were caught, said Andy Seymour, city parks and recreation director. He had hoped for hundreds.
"We've been waiting all summer for a run of good surf," Seymour said. "But the one day we did not want the big surf, it got help from Hurricane Juliette. We assume the stingrays moved out of the area in self-defense. We did not catch a single fish in the last two hours of the contest."
The competition was not a complete loss. Seal Beach resident Garth Ryan won the event's top prize for catching a 13-pound, 8-ounce stingray. Most weighed under a pound though, Seymour said. Ryan was presented with a $100 gift certificate from the city's Old Town travel agency.
Seymour hopes the contest will convince state wildlife officials that the city needs help in reducing the growing number of stingrays attracted to the warm waters and debris from the nearby San Gabriel River mouth. The state Department of Fish and Game prohibits the netting of stingrays because of the threat to other game fish.
"Even had we caught 200 stingrays, it would not have eliminated the problem," Seymour said. "We've got thousands."