The Moss Landing focus group discussion on December 16, 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 Moss Landing 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 Moss Landing discussion, see this focus group summary. For more information on focus group participant recruitment selection criteria, see this recruitment process overview.
Moss Landing focus group participants reported generally healthy marine resources; most notably rebuilt groundfish populations, though they acknowledged that abundance varied across fisheries, species and changes with natural ocean cycles. Participants reported good local markets overall and added that fishing community members have created and contributed to the development of local fish markets (though some participants felt local markets could be improved and move more product). The focus group also believed unity and camaraderie were high amongst fishermen within the port, though there is room for more leadership, and that Moss Landing has representation/engagement in fisheries policy processes (i.e., marine life entanglements associated with the Dungeness crab fishery) which led them to rate social relationships with external groups as strong.
Though participants believed marine resources were generally healthy, they highlighted concerns about several key fisheries for Moss Landing (including Dcrab, squid and spot prawn) which they reported had declining abundance, as well as salmon (which fluctuates from season to season). Participants were extremely worried about the future health of marine resources due to concerns about ineffective management. They also highlighted that Moss Landing does not have a public hoist, and infrastructure is generally not accessible to everyone in the port, though some fishermen affiliated with specific buyers do have access to key infrastructure and services such as ice, bait, and gear storage. Moss Landing participants reported that many restrictions including RCAs, Dungeness crab season constraints and prohibitively expensive permits inhibit their access to diverse fisheries and result in insufficient income to support livelihoods, especially for fishermen with young families. Access and income challenges, as well as port gentrification and competition from international seafood imports, were identified as factors that negatively affect the retention of fishermen and recruitment of crew. Additionally, the demands of engaging in policy processes essential to maintaining a viable commercial fishing industry, result in their dissatisfaction with their fishing jobs broadly, despite the fact that they love fishing and working on the ocean.
Participants shared a wide range of perspectives about MPA effects on marine resource health, from positive to neutral to negative. Several participants reported that MPAs can have positive effects on marine resources, but a balanced approach to closures is necessary in order to avoid negative effects on the resources (ie. compaction of fishing effort). Participants believed the California MPA network has not achieved this balance and closed too many fishing grounds, which they suggested could be mitigated by opening MPAs on a rotating basis. Participants identified negative MPA impacts on their livelihoods, including increased travel distance and less available fishing grounds overall which leads to loss of revenue. Participants were overall dissatisfied with MPA management because they do not see active management efforts and they do not believe the state has adequate funding for effective management. The focus group reported feeling betrayed during the MPA implementation process when they shared information about their fishing grounds which were then ultimately not closed. Their dissatisfaction with MPA monitoring stemmed from poor communication of monitoring efforts and inadequate funding to support monitoring studies. Participants reported that MPA enforcement is effective, but wardens lack the capacity to cite all violators.
“I think that the rockfish are doing really well in particular and that their populations are probably fully rebuilt to what they were before the 80s [. . .] And then, on the other hand, you’ve got [Dungeness] crab and spot prawns, which are in a really down cycle. Maybe that happens regardless of the fact that it’s this year in particular… it’s kind of more of a natural, long-term cyclical thing.”
“It’s kind of the general consensus of fishermen [that they are extremely worried because of] how quickly everything is changing with regulations and environmental factors [. . .] And then definitely in my mind, future ocean changes are a huge issue, especially considering all that we learned about whale entanglements [related to a changing climate affecting whale distributions and populations] and the direction things are heading. I’m definitely extremely worried about multiple particulars within the management and the ocean condition changes that we could be experiencing in the future.”
“I think the dissatisfaction comes from everything that happens when you come to the dock. […] But I do think from a regulatory standpoint and a management standpoint, it’s challenging to follow the politics around which people are making decisions about your livelihood and your ability to feed your family or pay a mortgage. The fact that other people are making the decision and you’re having to pay attention to it or participate in that – it’s very stressful, very difficult. And you’re adding that on top of a job that’s already demanding 12 hours of your day, if not more. So it’s a pretty heavy load that these guys are carrying.”
“The regulations make it very difficult to fish for the diverse species that we have around here, but if you have a billion dollars worth of permits, then you do have a pretty diverse group of fisheries here.”
“I would like to believe that a job like fishing should be at a level where you could support your family by yourself. I feel like that is a tough job. It’s a real job. It’s a job that supplies the community. It helps the community. It feeds people. It’s something that not everybody wants to do. And I feel like there’s a lot of men that are fishing that [. . .] don’t have fisheries that they can get a sufficient amount of money to provide for their families. [. . .] There are guys that are doing fine, but there’s a lot more guys that are struggling.”
“The infrastructure that exists serves a limited group of people, mostly the people that attach themselves to a market, and for those that haven’t attached themselves to a market, they’re somewhat left on the fringes and having to cart their fish on the docks… they don’t have ice, they don’t have storage, they don’t have bait. They don’t have all the things that a healthy, working waterfront would have to support a diversity of fishermen businesses, not just the key businesses that exist here in the harbor right now.”
“The strength of the port’s relationship with external groups, I would say, is strong. I mean, there’s myself and now [name redacted]: we’ve both been a part of the Dungeness Crab Gear Working Group, and a lot of people have tried their best to be involved as much as they can, including [names redacted]. And so, that could almost be considered very strong, I guess, but it could be better also. But yeah, the key players who have their life on the line here are definitely engaged.”
“The ocean is arguably one of the most dynamic environments on the planet, and it’s being regulated in a very static way. And I think there’s a giant mismatch between how much the ocean changes day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year, and the need for management strategies to be much more adaptive and dynamic in that way. And I know that is a giant ask of managers and policymakers, but I think it’s imperative; I think it’s essential. The environment’s changing much faster, given all the other forces in the world.”
“I’ve got to run way further to get to the fish, the quota that I’m allowed to catch. Landings are down because I used to be able to fish for shallow nearshore rockfish in spots that were more protected from the weather, and so I could fish way more days. Therefore, if my cost is up and my landings are down, my income is down. So [MPAs] affect my income. And I’m not sure if it really affects the number of participants in the fisheries that we have around here. I mean, I could see how that could be a big factor for the lobster fishery or sea urchin fishery. But here, it makes it tougher: you have to go further to get to good fishing spots, and mainly the loss of my favorite fishing spots that I could fish when the weather was bad has negatively affected my income for sure over the years.”
“When they shut these areas down, they used the data that the fishermen gave them. And they literally collected the data and got the waypoints where people caught fish, and they shut the areas down where all the fish was caught.”
“I would like to see data on the monitoring of the MPAs [. . .] Everyone has a theory that the MPAs can harbor older fish, which can have more babies, and therefore the fishing areas will be better fishing. But that’s just a theory unless it’s been scientifically proven. Maybe it has, but I’d just like to see more outreach from whatever monitoring that they are doing. I think that would build trust with me at least, and just make me feel like they’re actually caring about all these giant closed areas that they made and not just creating ‘em and enforcing the fact that you can’t do anything there.”
“As far as enforcement goes, enforcement’s just doing their job. [. . .] Now, if somebody is breaking the law within the deal, which I’ve seen several times, and guys get away with it… enforcement’s spread thin and light, too. So is it being completely policed like a stoplight with a camera on it? No, it’s not. But they’re doing the job to the best of their means.”
Top image: Fishing vessel returning to harbor at sunset. Credit: Steve Kepple