Morro Bay /
Port San Luis

Cohort Participants

Discussion Date

The Morro Bay – Port San Luis focus group discussion on October 29, 2020 included four community members from a range of commercial fisheries. Participants provided their perspectives on MPA outcomes and the health and well-being of the Morro Bay – Port San Luis 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 Morro Bay – Port San Luis discussion, see this focus group summary. For more information on focus group participant recruitment selection criteria, see this recruitment process overview.



Participants reported marine resources in the Morro Bay/Port San Luis area are healthy and thriving. They attributed high marine resource health to less fishing pressure, fewer ocean pollutants, and rockfish conservation areas (RCA), and noted that high abundance of bait fish and marine mammals are indicative of a healthy marine environment. Participants were generally satisfied and appreciative of their jobs in the fishing industry and stated they will continue to fish as long as they are physically able to. Regarding relationships within the Morro Bay/Port San Luis fishing community, participants identified a small group of individuals that are actively involved in local fishing associations. They characterized fishermen as individualistic and competitive, which can make engagement within the broader fishing community difficult. Participants reported Morro Bay/Port San Luis fishermen are well represented on external bodies and that the local fishing organization acts as a liaison between fishermen and groups that can help support community needs.


Participants’ concerns related to future marine resource health were specific to management and ocean development activities (i.e., offshore wind). Participants identified several restrictions that inhibit access, including the uncertainty of fishing seasons, particularly for Dungeness crab; high permit costs and area closures, namely RCAs. Participants said fishing income is sufficient if fishermen have the permits to access a range of fisheries, and added that some years are more profitable than others but that costs are generally increasing. Participants indicated markets vary by port and species in the Morro Bay/Port San Luis area, and expressed a desire for greater market diversity, choice, and competition. They highlighted concerns regarding the shift from a frozen to fresh market due to a lack of local markets, processors and freezer facilities, in addition to an uncertain trucking schedule. Several participants reported poor availability and maintenance of key infrastructure to support fishing activities, and cited the low volume of catch as a factor, though one participant believed that current infrastructure is sufficient. Participants shared the perspective that few skilled young people are entering the fishing industry, and that it is difficult to retain crew due to the high demands of a fishing job. Participants felt the broader community has limited awareness of the local fishing industry and suggested fishermen work to cultivate relationships with the local community. Participants were also concerned that waterfront development plans in Morro Bay would exclude the commercial fishing industry.


MPA Takeaways

Participants identified negative impacts from the MPA network on marine resource health due to increased fishing pressure outside MPAs, especially areas close to port. They reported not seeing spillover of marine resources from within MPAs. When asked about MPA livelihood outcomes, participants identified the loss of fishing grounds as a notable impact, which has made their jobs harder overall due to crowding, compaction, and displacement. They also reported that MPAs have made it more difficult to make a living. They also require longer trips to find fishable areas outside the MPAs, and has led some fishermen to leave certain fisheries. Participants were unclear about MPA management goals and were dissatisfied with MPA management in general. Participants reported mistrust in the outcomes of the Central Coast MPA planning process because they believed the information fishermen provided was used by decision-makers to implement MPAs in important fishing areas. With regard to MPA monitoring, participants discussed how opportunities for fishermen involvement have decreased since implementation, and expressed their desire for collaboration with the fishing fleet in MPA research. Participants reported inconsistent enforcement of MPA regulations for commercial versus sport fishermen, and were unclear about what evidence is used when prosecuting an MPA violation.


Direct from focus group participants

“Over the last 15 years, with the different closures, restricted areas, and restricted access and a decrease in participation [in the California commercial fishing industry], what I see in my travels is the ocean’s healthier than I remember it 20, 25 years ago.”

“Some years, you make a lot of money. Some years you make a medium amount of money. Some guys make the same kind of money all the time… And for a young guy, [fishing can be] a pretty good living. So, you know, it all depends how hard do you want to work and if the fish are there. But it’s all fishing, so. I mean, like I said, some years, you have a good year. Some years you don’t.”

“[Offshore wind] is a big concern. I don’t think the science is very well settled on what the transmission lines do. I know on the East Coast, the [movement towards offshore wind] stopped because there was evidence that it was hurting spawning. So if fish can’t spawn properly, or their spawning is inhibited, that’s obviously not good for the resource. And just my same concerns before – the more ocean you take away where we can fish, the more concentrated people become. And then you’ve overstrained a resource in those areas. So that’s the biggest thing, is the loss of ocean that’s fishable. I think that’s the biggest impact in the future.”

“My biggest concern with our fishery is the lack of younger guys. We have so few guys that want to deckhand. Young guys are [un]interested in running a boat, much less owning a boat. I think it used to be more family businesses. Parents would fish, and then their kids are fishing with them, and [the kids would] get their hand on a boat or get hooked up with a boat. For some reason, [in] our ports there seems to be a generation gap [of kids that aren’t] interested in fishing. So in our ports specifically in 10 years, there’s going to be a lot of boats that don’t have operators. I don’t know where we’re going to get operators.”

“Port San Luis [has] no processing at all left. We just lost our last fish market. We don’t even have a farmer’s market yet. So we just have extremely limited options, almost no competition. So for live fish, we have one buyer who transports most of the live fish up to the Bay Area. For hagfish, we only have one buyer. For salmon, [name redacted] will buy a certain amount. After that, guys have to call around to find other people to buy their fish. […] It’s bad for the price, it’s bad for scheduling your fishing trips just because you’re so dependent on meeting your truck driver, all that. […] A lot of times [fishermen and the trucks] are on different schedules. So it just makes everything more difficult.”

“Our facilities, due to lack of volume going across the docks where we are able to unload, [makes it] hard [for the port] to keep up on maintenance and repairs and whatnot.”

“Everybody in the [Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization] that is a director or an officer are in contact with people all over the state. You know, the [DCTF, offshore wind, the cable committee, PCFFA, etc.]. So I think everybody’s pretty connected and knows what’s happening and is well informed.”

“The big problem in Morro Bay is a shift in the [community’s] mindset. We’ve got some developers here on the waterfront that are trying to move [fishermen] out. We got a city council and a mayor and a bunch of people [that are trying] to push us out… Most of us don’t get to vote [in local elections because] most of us don’t live in Morro Bay; we live out of town [so] we can’t vote… It’s a big concern.”

“We fought like hell to try to get the [Blue Ribbon Task Force] to really know fishing and how fishing works. And when they put a bunch of MPAs in the best [nearshore] areas that we have fished for years and years, that when they leave little areas open close to port, [those areas] get hammered… I don’t think the MPAs are doing anything, nothing. Except causing overfishing.”

“Well, I think the guys are still able to fill their quota. It takes longer. More fuel to burn, more time on the ocean… You’re still able to do it if you fish hard. These guys fish every day. The nearshore guys that go every day. So they’re still making a living, but of course, they’re spending a lot more going. So it just takes longer, and they are fishing the areas harder than they would if the areas were still open where we saw fish.”

“There’s been a lot of broken trust with the fishermen. The logs were used [during the MPA planning process]. The heaviest fished areas [are] the areas they closed. So now, I mean, the big thing with the fleet is as soon as you get a logbook and you’re new to the fishery, they tell you don’t ever put where you’re really fishing on those logbooks. And there’s just a severe broken trust between the management and the fishermen. We don’t want to work with [managers] if we feel we’re going to work with [them and then they] take the prime area. So that’s one of the consequences, is the trust is broken.”

“During the whole MLPA meetings, [managers and decision-makers] were all hip on fishermen doing the monitoring and working on it and managing it, helping the [California Department of Fish and Wildlife] manage it [and conduct] research. They were going to involve the fishermen, [and] they did for the first couple of years when Packard was still putting money out for it. But [the California Department of Fish and Wildlife] didn’t want to put any money out for it, so they stopped it. I mean, we had a really good protocol going. We were going in and out of the MPAs. We were tagging. Catch per unit effort. Cal Poly was all on board with that, but then all of a sudden it stopped.”

“Enforcement is either over the top or nonexistent. There doesn’t seem like there’s any middle of the road, you know. [There’s] no rhyme or reason why or when [enforcement] happens. So I think there’s distrust in the enforcement.”

Top image: Fishing boats tied up in front of Morro rock. Credit: Fred Moore