San Francisco

Cohort Participants

Discussion Date

The San Francisco Bay Area focus group discussion on October 26, 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 San Francisco Bay Area 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 San Francisco Bay Area discussion, see this focus group summary. For more information on focus group participant recruitment selection criteria, see this recruitment process overview.



Focus group participants from the San Francisco port described several bright spots in the overall well-being of their port. They noted that overall fishing industry participants had high levels of job satisfaction when other factors didn’t get in the way. They articulated strong internal relationships with a cohesive culture of trust, understanding and respect. Participants also expressed that marine resource populations were healthy overall while sharing concerns about water politics and salmon populations. Participants had positive things to say about local markets for catch, noting that there were several market options including dockside sales, direct marketing to the public and traditional buyer/processor market (though they did express some concerns around halibut catch and markets). Participants stated that the local infrastructure was acceptable, noting that they have many of the infrastructure elements they need. 


San Francisco fishing community members expressed worries related to the future health of marine resources due management and regulations, specifically expressing concerns about how water policy and management will affect the salmon fishery. Participants described many barriers to participating in the local fishing industry including the high costs of permits, access restrictions, increasing overhead costs and the changing management of the Dungeness crab fishery. Given these challenges and the high cost of living in the Bay Area, it can be difficult for local fishermen to make a living on fishing alone and several expressed a need to find additional sources of employment to supplement the income from fishing. Participants indicated that there was room for improvement in terms of the San Francisco fishing community’s relationships with NGOs, agencies, decision-makers and the public.


MPA Takeaways

Overall focus group participants ranked the ecological outcomes from the MPA network as neutral. Participants said that it was difficult to determine if MPAs had negative or positive effects due to the compounding effects of other fishery regulations and a lack of information. Many felt that the marine resource was already healthy prior to the implementation of the MPAs. Participants described negative livelihood impacts from MPAs including the loss of historically important fishing grounds for rockfish, sea urchin, and kelp fisheries, and the concentration of fishing effort in smaller areas. They stated that they haven’t yet seen positive impacts from the MPAs such as increased catch that could help mitigate the real negative livelihood impacts. Overall, participants expressed dissatisfaction with MPA management. They were concerned about poor communication related to MPA management and monitoring outcomes and expressed a desire for better communication and more opportunities to be involved in MPA management and decision-making. Participants believed that there was uneven MPA enforcement and when enforcement occured it appeared targeted toward commercial fishermen. Several participants recalled negative experiences with the MPA implementation process, feeling that little attention was paid to commercial fishing interests and feeling that they lost important fishing grounds due to the information they shared with decision-makers.


Direct from focus group participants

“I’d say [Bay Area commercial fishermen] are extremely satisfied because there’s as much complexity to making a living fishing as any human being could ask for. People take great pride in their boats and the competitive aspect of fishing and all that. Once they figure out that they can do it and be successful most of the time, it seems like they want to do it their whole lives.”

“A good example [is the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association. They’re] doing a great job, working really hard and we appreciate it. I’d say there’s pretty good cohesion at the wharf. We have meetings and there’s always talk.”

“Looking specifically at the health of the ecosystem, I’d say the ecosystem is doing very well currently. The water temperatures are what we would consider pretty normal, and the upwelling that drives the ecosystem is in place and it’s booming. But that’s a separate issue than how the industry’s managed.”

“I have access to a hoist, to a forklift, and I can do what I need to do with the freezers and stuff. I’ve been dealing with these people for decades so I have good relationships with them. So as far as that goes, it’s good. The port moves in strange ways, but ultimately we have a steel dock, we have gear storage. So that’s all fine.”

“The pressures aren’t on the actual fishery or on the species. It’s more on the regulations surrounding fishing – species like [Dungeness] crab, for instance, the pressure is on whale entanglement, domoic acid, fair starts, and regional disputes. [. . .] There’s pressures everywhere else, but the actual crabs are doing pretty well. […] It was actually a pretty good salmon season, but there is the worry of water and [. . .] the politics around water, which is a huge issue.”

“Permitting has a lot to do with access. The only real open access fisheries are your open access rockfish, lingcod, halibut, and white sea bass. Crabs are obviously permitted [. . .] It’s not like every fisherman has every kind of permit, although maybe a handful do and are able to go and participate and have access to all the fisheries. So I kind of look at this in a way of going, well, it’s sufficient for those that have the permits and insufficient for those who do not.”

“There isn’t enough money in these fisheries [. . . ] because what you make isn’t enough to support you or a family in the Bay Area without some other source of income.”

“If everybody says, ‘OK, well, I’m going to go for halibut,’ then the market will get saturated and the processors will say, ‘no, we don’t want any,’ and you have to go and sell them off the boat, which people have done. But that’s not a viable answer because we’re focused more on production and selling to wholesalers. That’s our business model and in the last four or five years, we’ve watched it crumble.”

“There could be some massive improvement in [fishermen’s relationships with external groups] because of the bad image that we receive from NGOs, but then there are some NGOs that are extremely helpful and understand how important it is to have a strong fishing community. In terms of the agencies, it’s very hard to educate them about how important the commercial fishery is. I think they hear a lot of stuff from NGOs that don’t like us and don’t want to see us fishing.”

“I think it’s hard to really assess [MPA network effects marine resource health] for a number of reasons, and one is there’s more than just MPAs. There’s restricted quotas that [. . .] I think probably keep people from fishing any area more than it being an MPA. And then there’s the RCAs. And so I think probably what will happen is that whoever decided this [the MPA network] is a good idea will take credit for it working, even though it probably isn’t really possible to tell whether it really made any difference or not.”

“As far as saying whether [the MPA network has] had an effect, […] it’s no effect or neutral. You have no way to quantify it. [. . .] There is no way I could say with my view of what I catch and what I fish for, what I have seen with my own eyes, fishing next to MPAs, that there’s any difference.”

“[The MPAs are] areas you can’t fish to earn. So it does cut out some of the ability to earn. Some fisheries are very, very slightly impacted and others are greatly impacted.”

“Fairness? What’s fair? To who? [. . .] I don’t see enough communication of information and decisions; I think that can be improved. Opportunities for fishermen involvement – I think that those need to be brought to the fishermen. Like I was saying earlier, communication with departments would be a beneficial aspect for all parties.”

Top image: Fisherman moving Dungeness crab traps with a hoist. Credit: Cheryl Chen