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The Pacific whaling industry, with its chief port at San Francisco, was important to the California economy in the 19th century, and commercial fishing is still central to the food-processing industry. In 1998, California ranked 6th in the US in commercial fishing, with a catch of 336.1 million lb (152.4 million kg); the value of the catch, $110.7 million, ranked 8th and only accounted for 3.5% of the national value. Los Angeles ranked 10th among fishing ports in 1998, with landings totaling 145.3 million lb (65.9 million kg).

In 1997, the California fishing fleet numbered 7,121 vessels. In 1998, principal commercial species included squid, dungeness crab, 10.6 million lb (4.8 million kg); shrimp, 3.2 million lb (1.4 million kg); salmon, 2.1 million lb (0.9 million kg); sablefish, 3.2 million lb (1.4 million kg); and jack mackerel. California accounted for 54% of US landings of jack mackerel in 1998.

Deep-sea fishing is a popular sport. World records for giant sea bass, California halibut, white catfish, and sturgeon have been set in California. Fish farms distributed over 57.5 million salmon and 15.1 million trout and 48.5 million trout eggs within the state in 1998. There were 2,261,823 anglers licensed in the state in 1998. Sport fishing off the coast of California involved an estimated 1,098,000 coastal residents, 65,000 inland Californians, and 198,000 persons from other states in 1998. In 1998, marine recreational anglers caught an estimated 12 million fish along the Pacific coast of California, with Pacific mackerel and kelp bass the principal species.