CPFV/charter boat perspectives on their community well-being

illustration of seaweed

We asked  study participants representing California’s Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel (CPFV/charter boat) community to share perceptions of their communities’ well-being. Participants across the state rated and discussed the well-being of their CPFV communities related to economic, social, and environmental factors.

Read the summary of this key finding below. For the full version of study findings, read the report – Establishing a Statewide Baseline and Long-Term MPA Monitoring Program for Commercial and Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel Fisheries in the State of California

Key Takeaways

Focus group participants reported positive perceptions about CPFV fishing community well-being in relation to job satisfaction, social relationships among CPFV  community members, and present marine resource health. They reported neutral or negative perceptions about CPFV community members’ relationships with external groups, allocation of resources, and future marine resource health.

Figure 14. Bar chart showing statewide averages of CPFV focus group participants’ perspectives about well-being outcomes, ordered from highest to lowest.

Figure 1. Bar chart showing statewide averages of CPFV focus group participants’ perspectives about well-being outcomes, ordered from highest to lowest.

Study Methods

We conducted five regional focus group conversations with 20 members of California’s CPFV fleet. See here for listing of CPFV regions and ports.

Focus group participants were asked to rate a series of questions about the well-being of their CPFV fishing communities and about outcomes from the MPA network on a five-point scale from positive to negative. In addition to this quantitative assessment, the participants also shared oral commentary about various aspects of their community’s well-being.

Due to logistics, impacts from COVID-19 and nearby wildfires, and/or lack of trust or interest in the project, we were not able to convene CPFV focus groups in two regions of California (Monterey Bay Region and Los Angeles-Long Beach Region).

CPFV fishing community perceptions of economic well-being

Overall, focus group participants reported challenges related to the economic well-being of their CPFV communities. Both income from fishing and allocation of resources were ranked low, with participants expressing challenges making a living from CPFV fishing operations alone.

Perspectives on Income from Fishing
On average, CPFV participants across California rated income from fishing on the insufficient side of the scale. Many participants discussed the need for additional sources of income to support their livelihoods. Several participants highlighted factors such as increased costs of business while revenue was staying the same, and mentioned challenges associated with high costs of living. Participants communicated that seasonal closures for target fisheries and the declining health of some fish populations (i.e., salmon) were negatively affecting their ability to earn a living. Several participants also shared that it is easier for CPFV operators in nearby urban or affluent areas to make a living off their CPFV operations, due to their proximity to more potential clients.

Perspectives on Allocation of Resources
Across the state, CPFV focus group participants reported that allocation of resources for the CPFV industry was somewhat insufficient, with the average response indicating that allocation of resources was lacking. Participants noted Dungeness crab, rockfish, and lingcod as species where allocations were insufficient. 

Study participants discussed tension between CPFV owners/operators and commercial fishermen due to competition for resource allocation, and described how this directly impacts their economic well-being. Many CPFV participants believed resources and habitats are more negatively impacted by some commercial sectors when compared to CPFV operations. They felt that resource allocations are too restrictive relative to the CPFV fleet’s limited impact on the resources.

I have to work side jobs and do other stuff. As much as I love charter boats and I’ve dedicated my life to it, it doesn’t earn me enough income to live in this area. […] My goal is to be financially able to do this as a career [which means I need] the ability to have more days on the water. Once the season’s over, we’re closed by regulation for three months at least, [which] certainly make it difficult for other [months] besides those three […]. It’s not really a viable option for charter boats in those three months, most years.
CPFV owner/operator

Bodega Bay Region

I think there are quite a few of us [CPFV owner/operators] that participate in other [commercial] fisheries as well. […] I think up and down the state, there’s quite a few guys that are both involved in a CPFV fleet as well as some type of commercial fishery. There’s a lot of guys that fish squid when they’re around, or lobsters or various other things. They’re still fishing all the time, but they might not solely rely only on their CPFV revenue.
CPFV owner/operator

Orange County/San Diego Region

[Resource allocation for us is] insufficient. You take MPAs, rockfish closures, or bag limits into consideration. I mean, the bottom line is the more restrictive [CDFW regulations are,]… the harder it is to do our job, the harder it is to make a profit from it and the more pressure [is] put in smaller areas.
CPFV owner/operator

Ventura/Santa Barbara Region

CPFV fishing community perceptions of social well-being
illustration of a school of small fish swimming

CPFV participants across the state reported high levels of job satisfaction and relatively strong internal social relationships. However, on average, they indicated that social relationships with external entities such as government, managers, NGOs, and other fishing sectors could use improvement.

Perspectives on Job Satisfaction
On average, job satisfaction was the highest rated well-being question, and CPFV participants across the state reported a strong sense of fulfillment from working on the ocean, due to having autonomy over their businesses and schedules, as well as working with clientele. Most participants shared that these positives of the job outweigh many of the stressors and challenges.

Perspectives on Internal Relationships 
Some focus group participants identified strong relationships and collaboration within their ports, where CPFV owners/operators work toward common goals, have good communication among the fleet, are responsive and supportive to requests for help by other CPFV owners/operators, and engage in healthy competition. Other participants said CPFV owners and operators in their port do not work well together, and explained that CPFV operators are their own bosses who are not used to working collaboratively and cooperatively with others.

Perspectives on External Relationships
Participants’ perspectives regarding relationships between CPFV owners/operators and external groups were wide ranging, though on average participants reported the strength of relationships with external groups as lacking, especially compared to relationships within their port communities.

Study participants from multiple ports shared challenges with low engagement and representation in policy processes by the CPFV industry at large. Several participants lamented that the CPFV industry generally does not have a voice in the management of their own fisheries, and believed they could better inform management and industry decisions if they were more organized, and if managers meaningfully considered their input.

Focus group participants highlighted some strengths in relationships with external groups, and described  several instances of productive engagement with managers, environmental NGOs, and their local communities. One participant noted that the advocacy work of the Sportfishing Association of California (SAC) was especially helpful in terms of helping to advance the CPFV industry’s priorities.

I think everyone is satisfied. […] There are some questions with job security, […] who knows where we’re going to be in 20 years? […] It’s stressful, that’s part of the job. […] But I think, certainly, the positives outweigh the negatives. I think everyone’s satisfied, we wouldn’t be doing this if there wasn’t some sort of satisfaction out of it, […] I mean, we’re not doing it because we’re looking to get rich, right?
CPFV owner/operator

Orange County/San Diego Region

boats docked in the water, gravelly shore, blue sky
I just don’t see the presence of the charter community in outside groups, whether it be the Coastal Commission meetings, whether it be Fish and Game Commission meetings, local or state. I just don’t see them. We’re a ‘non-group’ is what I would call us.
CPFV owner/operator

North Coast Region

Everybody seems to get along really well, although, you know, we all compete amongst ourselves. I believe that it’s healthy competition and everybody works together and we all share common interests. There’s competition on a daily basis, but it’s all friendly. And we’ve got a bunch of great guys that get along well. So we’re lucky in that respect.
CPFV owner/operator

Bodega Bay Region

illustration of rockfish

CPFV fishing community perceptions of environmental well-being

On average, CPFV operators rated the present health of marine resources as somewhat positive. Participants highlighted some bright spots, such as the recovery of rockfish populations, for example. In conjunction with this, many participants expressed worries about the future state of marine resources due to concerns about long-term management, changing ocean conditions, and future drought conditions. 

Reported bright spots
Several study participants believed rockfish populations have rebounded from historic low abundance, which they attributed to Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs). A few study members also attributed fluctuations in marine resource health to natural ocean cycles.

Reported concerns
Study participants from northern California ports reported vastly reduced salmon abundance and shared concerns that riverine habitat loss, drought, and poor enforcement of water quality law were all negatively affecting salmon population health. Some participants expressed concerns about declining kelp forests, which they highlighted as important nursery habitat for target species. 

When asked about future marine resource health, many focus group participants  reported they were primarily concerned about ineffective fisheries management, though they also discussed worries about other contributing factors that might negatively affect future marine resource health, including changing ocean conditions and low river flows.

[For present marine resource health] I chose ‘Neutral’ […] based on natural fluctuations because of what we’ve seen over the last ten years with sea bass, yellowtail, [and] groundfish opportunities. But it’s all based on natural fluctuations.
CPFV owner/operator

Ventura/Santa Barbara Region

When you look at things like decreasing kelp forests, increasing pressure on some species […] like, look at salmon. Salmon is somewhat doomed, it’s a hard word, but they’re having a really hard time in California. And we are likely, in my opinion, to have a restricted or heavily restricted season this year based on numbers of returning fish […] It matters what species we’re talking about. But in general, I think we’re looking at decreasing and changing habitats with increasing pressure, which in my opinion, is lower sustainability and is a worry for me.
CPFV owner/operator

Bodega Bay Region

[It’s a] combo of worry about management and future ocean change. I’m always worried that CDFW [California Department of Fish and Wildlife], NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service], NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], PFMC [Pacific Fisheries Management Council] are going to screw up management measures.
CPFV owner/operator

San Francisco Bay Area Region