Los Angeles /
The Los Angeles – Long Beach Area Ports focus group discussion on September 4, 2020 included six community members from a range of commercial fisheries. Participants provided their perspectives on MPA outcomes and the health and well-being of the Los Angeles – Long Beach Area Ports commercial fishing community, including environmental conditions, markets, infrastructure, and social relationships. A synthesis of these perspectives is captured below.
For the full summary of the Los Angeles – Long Beach Area Ports discussion, see this focus group summary. For more information on focus group participant recruitment selection criteria, see this recruitment process overview.
Los Angeles/Long Beach area focus group participants were optimistic about the current and long-term health and sustainability of several species, including California spiny lobster, California sheephead and kelp, as a result of their natural fluctuations and cycles. They identified instances of success with direct marketing for local fishermen, but stated engagement with local market options were time consuming. With regard to job satisfaction, participants shared that they generally enjoy the fishing livelihood, but the negatives of fishery regulations and management tend to outweigh the positives of the job. Participants highlighted communication and relationships between fishermen in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area as a bright spot for local ports. They added how this is more common among fishermen who have known each other for a long time, but that there is an overall sense of camaraderie and support between fishermen at all levels. Even so, they mentioned how this social aspect of commercial fishing has weakened over the years.
Participants expressed concerns about access to commercial marine resources due to high costs of permits and limited permit availability, which they believed is a main contributor to low recruitment and retention of new commercial fishermen. They shared that overly restrictive regulations also inhibit access for local commercial fishermen, particularly the inability to combine fisheries in a single fishing trip, namely rock crab and lobster. Participants stated that income from fishing is insufficient to support livelihoods, necessitating the need for multiple income sources either through a second job or from a partner. Due to U.S. tariffs on California spiny lobster, fishermen reported receiving lower prices for their product than what fishermen from Mexico are paid for the same product. Participants conveyed concerns related to the future health of sea urchin populations, which have declined in recent years, and said this lack of abundance makes selling to standard buyers/processors difficult. With regard to commercial fishing infrastructure, participants described a general lack of key services in local ports, which they believe demonstrates a lack of local investment and support for commercial fishing more broadly. Participants identified room for improvement in local commercial fishermen’s engagement in fishery policy processes.
Several participants reported that the MPA network has negatively affected marine resource health in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area, while others desired more information to assess MPA ecological outcomes. Participants explained how restrictions on sea urchin harvesting have decreased kelp abundance in the closures. In addition, participants believed restrictions on California sheephead harvesting in MPAs has negatively affected both sea urchin and lobster abundance due to predation. When asked about MPA livelihood impacts, participants associated displacement of fishing effort into smaller areas, increased travel distance, and greater fuel costs with the loss of historically important and safe fishing grounds. Participants were frustrated that their engagement in the MPA implementation process did not result in meaningful inclusion of their perspectives. Fishermen shared frustration with the communication of MPA management goals and progress toward these goals and questioned the timing of baseline monitoring studies, which were conducted after MPA implementation in some regions. They also expressed dissatisfaction with the communication of ongoing monitoring studies and results, leading them to believe there is little interest in MPA performance by state managers. Participants characterized MPA enforcement as inconsistent, ineffective and unfair, especially when comparing enforcement for commercial and sport fishing activities.
“With lobster, every year is different. You can have a couple pretty bad years and then have one that they keep coming and you go out the next day saying ‘there’s no way I’m going to catch today’ and it’s even better. You know, so I’m not worried. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’m not worried.”
“I kind of jumped on the bandwagon [with] direct marketing last year and I had some success with it. I know some fishermen that have tried it in the past and haven’t had success with it. And then some fishermen sell to local markets and they have a good relationship and things work out well for them. So, but I think it could always be better.”
“I would say everybody’s probably dissatisfied. It’s not from the actual fishing or the job itself, but more from just the pressures, the outside pressures, other than fishing, whether it be management [or] the environmental groups that are constantly chopping away at us with their crazy ideas and just things like that. When I started, the biggest [concern] you had was ‘is the weather going to be bad today’ or ‘how’s fishing going to be.’ Now we have to worry about thieves because of changes in management. It’s just not the same anymore. I mean, the fishing part of it I still enjoy. But all the other crap involved with it has just taken all that away from it.”
“I feel things have changed in Fish Harbor over the last few years where we’ve lost a lot of boats. They’ve moved to different ports or they’ve retired or some of them have died and we’re just gone. So the new guys that come in from the North, I’ve known some of them. I’ve known some of their fathers even and we have respect for each other, but I don’t socialize with anybody down there at the harbor. But in terms of just getting together, things have changed. We used to raft up in harbors at various islands and have a drink together in the evening or have coffee and talk over the latest whatever all the time, but that kind of relationship has just drifted away.”
“[I have] difficulty with multiple fisheries because they don’t let you combine. I fish offshore and I can’t combine crab and lobster anymore because of the trap tags needed. You’re only allowed 300 traps. So some people were like ‘well, I’m just going to put a bunch of crab gear out there and fish lobster with it. It kind of sucks, especially if you fish offshore because you got to run a long ways. And we used to combine one trip into two fisheries.”
“Talking with my processors, one of them said he doesn’t have much hope for the sea urchin fishery five or ten years down the line. The level of decline is very steep. Eventually, they’re going to drop out and the guys that direct market will be able to probably sustain a living because they work on quality and not on volume.”
“We take a huge hit overseas. I mean, we’re tariffed 52% where Mexico is nothing [. . .] so the tariffs kill us [. . .] they get an astronomical price for their lobsters where we get, you know, nothing compared to what we used to get.”
“I don’t feel like there’s anybody really behind us ready to take these fisheries over. There [aren’t] young adults that are in the fisheries that work their way up to eventually own their own business and continue the cycle. It’s cost prohibitive [. . .] but it’s also access – there isn’t a lot of fisheries to get into.”
“For me, [external relationships are] very strong because I have the ability to reach people in different facets, especially as it pertains to the state or management and so on. Also with the NGOs, I have those relationships because of the MPA process years ago and I’ve maintained them, good or bad, but [others] don’t have the same relationships with all the folks.”
“I remember back to [before the MPAs were implemented] all the kelp that was there. It was so thick you could hardly even drive through [. . .] That was the last year I’ve seen it that thick in there. Over time, it’s never grown back in there and even on our northern MPA line the kelp is not like it used to be.”
“Oftentimes, the MPAs are on the leesides of islands and so where you had a backup plan [before] – [now] you’re going out and something blows up and it’s gnarly, you can’t just say ‘oh, well, we’ll just go eek out some product over here today, and then maybe it’ll be better around the other side tomorrow.’ It’s not like that. That’s permanently closed, we’ll never see them open again.”
“I think a lot of us have become engaged [in fisheries policy processes] only because we have to, I mean, obviously we became fishermen for a reason. You know, we don’t necessarily like going to meetings and doing this kind of crap, but that’s what our life has morphed into and it takes away from what we initially got into fishing for – to go fishing and it’s like I said before, you know, it’s constant regulation, it’s constant this, it’s constant that.”
“There was no ability to negotiate with people [during MPA implementation] because they wanted to close the entire coastline of Laguna Beach to take and [make it] an SMR. And they got almost the entire coastline of the sea at Laguna Beach. They are completely disingenuous in terms of wanting to work with the various fishing communities, and that’s where we’re left right now. I mean, obviously you can tell I’m a little bit heightened by this whole thing. It’s bullshit. It’s complete bullshit, and the fact that we’re talking about it right now and in the conversations that we’ve all had amongst ourselves, that I’ve had with with NGOs, it’s for naught – it truly is.”
“It would have been so easy, if they have done any monitoring or anything, to just send an email and say ‘here’s a link to what we’ve been doing’ to all the fishermen that are licensed that might have been impacted [by the MPAs]. So I am not happy with that.”
“There’s times [when I’ll] see a [sport fishing] boat in there for 8 to 10 hours in the day – you pass them in the morning, you see in the afternoon and they haven’t moved. Nobody cares. I mean it’s just like we all said at the beginning – this wasn’t about anything other than a land grab and they got it and now they don’t care. They walked away from it. But enforcement wants us [commercial fishermen] because the fines are much greater. It’s all about money. They know it all has to do with trying to generate money.”
Top image: Fishing boats in Long Beach. Credit: Cheryl Chen