CPFV/charter boat perspectives on marine protected area (MPA) outcomes

illustration of a fisherman holding out two large lobsters, blue and red

We asked community members from regional focus groups representing California’s Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel (CPFV/charter boat) communities to share their perceptions of MPA outcomes. 

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

Study participants representing California’s CPFV/charter boat fishing communities shared similar feedback to the commercial fishing participants we heard about outcomes from California’s MPA network. On average, CPFV participants across California scored MPA outcomes poorly, and some reported negative impacts on their fishing livelihoods. Across the state, CPFV participants were dissatisfied with MPA management, monitoring, and enforcement, and many expressed concerns that MPAs might be negatively affecting marine resource health due to compaction of fishing effort in areas that remain open to fishing. 

Figure 12. Bar chart showing statewide averages of CPFV focus group participants’ perspectives about MPA outcomes, ordered from highest to lowest.

Figure 1. Bar chart showing statewide averages of CPFV focus group participants’ perspectives about MPA 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 a series of questions about social, economic, and environmental outcomes from California’s MPA network, and were asked to score these outcomes on a five-point scale from very low to very high. Study focus group participants also shared oral commentary about MPA network outcomes.

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 perceptions of MPA livelihood outcomes

CPFV participants scored the effects of MPAs on their fishing livelihoods as either negative or neutral. The data reveals some regional trends, where more southern California-based CPFV operators scored MPA livelihood impacts as worse than those from Northern parts of the state. Participant commentary indicates that MPAs in the North Coast region were less likely to have been placed in important fishing grounds compared to those in southern parts of the state.

Across the state, participants believed that the MPA network decreased their overall profits and negatively impacted their livelihoods at large by decreasing accessible fishing grounds and requiring longer travel distances to avoid fishing in MPAs. 

Participants reported that at least one CPFV operator left the industry due to the implementation of MPAs. Reported cumulative effects from the MPA network included increased safety concerns, additional fuel costs, higher density of CPFV operators in smaller areas, less overall fishing time per trip, and a decrease in the overall number of trips offered per day. This increased participants’ overall sense of uncertainty and worry about the CPFV business model in California. 

Some participants cited CPFV operators’ resilience in finding workarounds to maintain business viability, despite negative livelihood effects from MPAs.

You definitely have to use a lot more fuel to move around more because you’ve got to drive around the [MPAs] so that you can fish. […Clients] don’t like the ride to be that long, a shorter ride is better, more preferable. And then [more] fuel, you know, [means] less profit. I have to burn more fuel per day per trip.
CPFV owner/operator

Bodega Bay Region

In North County San Diego and in Mission Bay, we have watched the fishing business evolve away from the half-day fishing trips. Now there’s only one half-day boat out of those two areas because of the removal of fishable habitat [from MPAs]. […] All of a sudden all these boats […] had to go to Mexico. We had to take those trips and make them longer and go to Mexico […] in order to make a viable living.
CPFV owner/operator

Orange County/San Diego Region

View of the Golden Gate bridge, red, tall, blue water, blue sky, low hills

One thing that you also need to understand is that the RCAs [Rockfish Conservation Areas] have also had a tremendous effect and impact on our industry [in addition to the MPAs], and that’s not being addressed here at all. [The combination of the MPA network and the RCAs have] pushed us into a much, much smaller box.

CPFV owner/operator

San Francisco Region

Overview of CPFV perceptions of MPA management, monitoring, enforcement

Across the state, CPFV participants were dissatisfied with MPA management, monitoring, and enforcement. Many participants felt that managers did not effectively communicate information about MPA management goals/indicators of success during MPA implementation and beyond, and felt the implementation process and ongoing management efforts lacked meaningful consideration of CPFV industry conditions and input by CPFV operators. Several participants described frustration about managers’ poor communication about how information from MPA monitoring studies would inform management decisions. Many participants shared frustration about enforcement efforts, which they believed were insufficient.

CPFV perspectives on MPA implementation

CPFV focus group participants expressed a continuing sense of betrayal related to the MPA implementation process, which they believed lacked meaningful consideration of fishing community input. Several believed that the information they shared in good faith with managers about their priority fishing grounds had been used against them, as many MPAs were designated in the fishing grounds they cited as important to their operations. Some participants felt that the MPA implementation process did not include sufficient consideration of fishing community socioeconomic information, nor sufficient consideration of the cumulative impacts of other management restrictions already in place.

CPFV perspectives on current MPA management

Many CPFV participants said they were unaware of ongoing MPA management efforts, and were frustrated by a perceived lack of opportunities for meaningful involvement of CPFV fishing communities  in ongoing management efforts. Many participants expressed their desires for adaptive management approaches to MPAs, such as using rotational closures, which they said had been promised to them by managers during the MPA implementation process.

CPFV perspectives on MPA monitoring

Participants expressed concerns related to a perceived lack of clear monitoring goals and a perceived failure to communicate results from past monitoring studies with the CPFV fishing community. Many focus group members shared that they were not aware of ongoing monitoring efforts nor monitoring study findings.

Participants expressed dissatisfaction with a perceived lack of opportunities for CPFV owner/operators to participate in the design and implementation of MPA monitoring studies. Some participants suggested that MPA monitoring should occur much more frequently, in order to capture  monthly and seasonal changes on the water.

CPFV perspectives on MPA enforcement

Many participants discussed seeing very little on-the-water enforcement presence, despite seeing substantial illegal fishing activity in MPAs, specifically by private recreational fishing boats. Participants recalled that reports of this illegal activity to CDFW wardens often went unaddressed, though some participants acknowledged CDFW’s limited capacity for enforcement. Participants also reported inconsistent enforcement efforts for CPFV vessels versus private recreational vessels, with CPFV operators being more targeted by enforcement. Many study participants from across the state said that CPFV operators have acted as de facto enforcement by confronting offending vessels and informing them about MPA boundaries/regulations and maintaining a culture of self-policing and peer pressure among CPFV owners/operators.

Beautiful photo of boats in the water, docked, rainbow in the gray sky, pine trees

When they came to put in the MPAs, […] they asked ‘well, where do you like to fish,’ […] And overwhelmingly, one of the answers was ‘well, one of the very best places to fish at Bodega Bay is Bodega Head.’ And one of the very first things that happened is they closed that exact spot. That didn’t create really good will. And so it has taken 20 years before groups like yours [this study] are able to come along and start up that dialogue again, because a lot of fishermen felt betrayed for lack of a better word.

CPFV owner/operator

Bodega Bay Region

There’s been no communication [of MPA monitoring studies/results], right? […] And then opportunities for involvement? Obviously, there’s some because the guys do some research with it; […] but what [are the] goals? There’s never been anything put out to us CPFV guys [about] what the goals of these are. So the only goal we know is to keep us out.
CPFV owner/operator

Santa Barbara/Ventura Region

I have not seen any MPA enforcement, I have seen [the California Department of] Fish and Wildlife a couple of times down in the area where we do rock fishing and stuff. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen them […] approach a boat or anything. […] And personally, I like to see the enforcement. If you’re going to have an [MPA], then you might as well make it the best it can be and enforce it and keep people out of there.
CPFV owner/operator

North Coast Region

There’s been no communication, there’s been no information that’s been put out on what has been going on with the MPAs. There’s been no fishermen involvement that I have seen in the management of what’s going on in the MPAs. Yes, we were involved with setting up the MPAs originally, but after that, there’s been nothing.

CPFV owner/operator

San Francisco Region

round image of a single boat approaching a small port area, hills and palm trees in the background

CPFV perceptions of MPA ecological outcomes

The majority of participants expressed negative or neutral views of MPA ecological outcomes. Many participants were worried that MPAs negatively affected marine resource health due to compaction of fishing effort in areas that remain open to fishing.

Several study participants did note some positive MPA outcomes for species such as rockfish and lingcod. They believed MPAs protected nursery habitat for juvenile marine species, but still had doubts about whether these outcomes have had a positive net effect on the quantity and quality of harvestable resources available to the CPFV industry.

Many participants expressed a desire to see monitoring results in order to better understand the ecological outcomes from MPAs.

Since I’ve been fishing there for a long time […] near the MPAs. We kind of knew going in [to the] MLPA [Marine Life Protection Act] that in well-managed fisheries, MPAs are not as strong as they are in areas with poor management – they don’t have as much effect. And that’s kind of what we’re seeing really: that the fisheries management has had more effect on our fisheries than the MPAs. We fish fairly near one MPA, but we don’t really see […] that the fishing is any different along the edge of the MPA as it is several miles away from it – it’s actually fairly similar.
CPFV owner/operator

North Coast Region

The MPAs have devastated the commercial urchin fishery. When the MPAs went into place – they’re basically nearshore, which is exactly where the urchins are at – that’s one of the reasons that [urchin populations] have exploded so much and have eaten the kelp forest and had a negative impact on the ecosystem and the abalone. That’s not the only reason the abalone are in trouble, but it was a huge reason maybe no one thought about, that if they [close] the best urchin diving spot on the North Coast, […] not just one spot, almost all of them, […that will] maybe upset the balance that was found before. […] The kelp forest is part of the ecosystem that our nearshore rockfish thrive in, which [charter operators] depend on.
CPFV owner/operator

Bodega Bay Area Ports

I think [MPAs] have had a positive effect on the fisheries [because they provide a] nursery and a rookery for fish species here. The negative aspect [is that MPAs have] limited our geographical areas where we can fish [which] has had a negative impact, because we’re having to fish in a smaller area… we end up having to go back to the same spots as opposed to going to new areas all the time […] I see it as an overall positive thing because of the increase in the populations.
CPFV owner/operator

San Francisco Area Ports