Cohort Participants

Discussion Dates

Oceanside discussions were convened in one-on-one conversations rather than a focus group discussion, per participants’ requests. These discussions were held in April and May 2021 and included three community members. Participants provided their perspectives on MPA outcomes and the health and well-being of Oceanside’s commercial fishing community, including environmental conditions, markets, infrastructure, and social relationships. A synthesis of these perspectives is captured below.

For the full summary of Oceanside discussions, see this focus group summary. For more information on focus group participant recruitment selection criteria, see this recruitment process overview.



Participants reported 2021 California spiny lobster prices as a highlight for Oceanside commercial fishermen, which were the highest they had ever been. One participant said Oceanside fishermen’s access to harvestable resources was sufficient overall, and comparable to the rest of southern California. Participants discussed their love for fishing itself, but identified the uncertainty of management as a source of dissatisfaction with their jobs.


Participants reported very negative effects from local beach nourishment projects on lobster population abundance. These negative effects are due to  imported sand washing out to sea and filling in the shallow reef habitat that supports major fisheries out of Oceanside, particularly California spiny lobster. They also reported that substantial kelp loss over the last four to five years has negatively affected the abundance of California spiny lobster populations, and expressed concerns about the negative future that long-term loss of kelp forests and climate change will cause across target commercial species. Participants related Oceanside fishermen’s insufficient access to resources primarily to local MPAs. When asked about income from fishing, participants identified a need to take on other jobs and reported costs tend to exceed revenue. They stated there is a lack of buyers in Oceanside, which limits fishermen’s ability to negotiate prices. Participants reported a lack of infrastructure in Oceanside to support commercial fishing activities, including no ice facilities, gear storage facilities, or cranes to load and unload catch. When discussing labor and new entrants into the fishing industry, participants shared several barriers to entry and retention in the local commercial fishing industry, including costs associated with participation in limited entry fisheries, increasing fishery regulations, and difficulty finding good crew. With regard to social relationships among Oceanside fishermen, participants noted poor leadership and trust within the port. They recalled engagement in past policy discussions resulted in a lack of trust in fishery policy processes in general, and added that commercial fishermen are much less engaged and less politically organized than sportfishing industry participants.


MPA Takeaways

Several participants were not certain about the effects of MPAs on marine resource health because they are unable to fish in the MPAs and compare marine resources inside versus outside the closures. Others reported lobsters, on average, are larger along and near MPA boundaries, while another participant did not believe lobster market quality has improved as a result of the MPAs. One participant stated black sea bass abundance has improved due to both MPAs and restrictions on black sea bass harvest. Participants reported a loss of local fishing grounds due to the MPAs, which has resulted in the financial impact of decreased landings, inability to fulfill markets, lower income, and increased operating costs (i.e., fuel), as well as increased safety risk associated with fishing. Participants discussed increased crowding and compaction along MPA boundaries, though one participant stated local MPAs encourage them to fish more areas than they otherwise would. Participants emphasized the lack of clarity and communication of MPA management goals, lack of opportunities for fishermen involvement, and lack of action by managers overall. They expressed frustration with the MPA implementation process when fishermen were asked to put pennies on the fishing grounds most important to their businesses, and believed the MPAs were intentionally placed in those productive areas. Participants had limited awareness of both MPA monitoring activities and results from MPA monitoring efforts. Regarding MPA enforcement, participants recalled recreational fishermen fishing inside MPA boundaries, and believed commercial fishermen self-enforce MPA rules and regulations better than official MPA enforcement.


Direct from focus group participants

“In Leucadia especially, they took sand from an inland project, and it wasn’t sand, it was more of a dirt, and they dumped it on the beach. It turned the water to mud. Truckload after truckload of dirty sand. The habitat never recovered. They built a resort on the bluff, now it’s hard to catch anything on the reef. The reef just filled in. I have all these plots on my chart from before when there was reef, in the 1990s to early 2000s. Now there is no reef. What was lost was all the little ledge areas for lobsters to crawl back in. We’ve lost habitat. I won’t say it won’t come back. But if we continue to put sand on the beach, they won’t come back.”

“The lobster population isn’t like it used to be. When the kelp went away, so did the lobsters for the most part. I’m not saying all of them, but a majority of the lobster went away.”

Personally, I’m quite concerned about how warm the water has been getting every year. We’ve had some good fishing here because of it, but I don’t think it’s a good sign for the North Pacific. We’ve really seen an awful lot of fish that used to spend most of their time significantly south of here, but are now spending almost all year in the Southern California Bight. We’re seeing the same thing that you can read about in the newspapers; habitats and home ranges of species are moving north.”

“The cost of business keeps going up. Licensing made a big jump in the last few years, the cost of permits have gone up two to three times what they were. […] After they made the reduction in traps, [now we need] tags on there, and the tags aren’t free, they are charging us. You got permits, fuel, bait, insurance, slip rent – every one of those, every year, go up. The cost of wire, rope, buoys, hauling the boat out to get painted […]  It all adds up.”

For the most part, there are only two buyers in Oceanside. More buyers, for me and other guys fishing, is better. […] I don’t know that the Oceanside harbor makes it easy to participate in the buying process. There’s really only one guy showing up down there, so you’re not going to get a good price for your products. It’s good to have a free market. But other than price, Oceanside is not that good as far as markets.”

Infrastructure is pretty terrible. Commercial fishing in Oceanside is an afterthought. It’s a recreational harbor, and there’s something in their charter that [requires] spots for commercial fishing, and that’s about all they do.”

“There is less pressure on [local] resources [now]. In the last three years, Oceanside harbor lost three commercial fishermen. Prior to that, there had been seven main guys, now there are four. Management restrictions have caused this.”

“Moving up in the industry is hard. For deckhands, the pay isn’t the greatest. […] There are not a lot of people moving up in the industry that I see. There are more guys getting out of it because of [insufficient] income. Even guys who have passion now have health and/or back issues in their 50s, early 60s. They start slowing down, can’t do as much, sell their business, and move out of state, start over somewhere else.”

Well, sense of fulfillment and purpose, I guess I got that, but job security in this day and age, I don’t have. Say you’re in my shoes, trying to save for retirement, do I want to buy a permit? It’s $100,000 worth of pure profit into that. And not having the knowledge of whether the fishery is going to remain open? I still have eight good years left in me, and would like to make them productive because I feel like working and I would like security in my future.”

“No leadership. Well maybe there’s one guy […] He is a port representative, he deals with Oceanside port meetings. But other than that, it’s not a tight group. […] We were trying to get a farmer’s market thing going [last year]. The guy who owns the bait shop was trying to keep the positive energy going, stop the fistfights. But we need more people on board to go to city council meetings and stuff like that. It’s a struggle. It’s very weak as far as overall leadership.”

“There’s only a little bit of engagement. […] It’s hard to compare it to SAC, [which is] very engaged. It’s lobster fishermen primarily in Oceanside. For whatever reasons, [they] tend to not be engaged overall in political processes, they’re not very organized. […]  It’s partially about leadership, partially about economics. Very few lobster fishermen are willing to contribute part of their income to pay for that kind of organization. It costs money to be effective. The will isn’t there among lobster fishermen. Not just in Oceanside, but in all of SoCal. I think that’s why SAC is effective. [Sportfishermen] contribute a significant portion of [their] gross revenue to SAC. […] A few of us suggested doing something similar [in the lobster fishery] so we could pay staff, but most guys said it’s not even worth considering.”

Loss of fishing area is a major factor. It is frustrating, the fact we lost the area, and we don’t know if [MPAs] are working. [MPAs have] increased my costs by six miles every time I go through there: three miles out, three back. My income was reduced by one third when [the MPAs were] put into place. In Cardiff, I can’t fish my traditional grounds, because they are closed. [Regarding the increased] travel time and distance, more travel time means more risk involved. Crowding? Of course! There is more competition in open areas, and then we had the [lobster] trap reduction on top of it. […] One or two guys left the industry because of MPAs.

“I’m really involved, I should hear about studies. I haven’t heard of any MPA studies.”

​​“There is no enforcement. It’s pathetic, really pathetic. It’s common to see recreational fishing for bottom fish in the middle of the reserves, which is not allowed. I’ve never seen anyone getting caught by wardens. They [wardens] don’t have the resources nor the will to enforce them [MPAs], it seems. I’m pretty sure there are unscrupulous fishermen that take advantage of that fact. It’s not hard if you have a little imagination. There is money to be made there, especially with lobsters. But the guys don’t get caught. Enforcement doesn’t happen. I don’t think there’s any effort made. The only thing stopping guys fishing there [in the MPAs] is their own moral code. It’s just like anything else, if there’s no risk of getting caught, unscrupulous people are going to take advantage of that, which is frustrating if you’re following the rules.”

Top image: Oceanside Harbor Lighthouse. Credit: Don Barrett