Santa Barbara

Cohort Participants

Discussion Date

The Santa Barbara focus group discussion on August 31, 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 Santa Barbara’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 the Santa Barbara discussion, see this focus group summary. For more information on focus group participant recruitment selection criteria, see this recruitment process overview.



Santa Barbara participants described the strong health of marine resources and the ability to catch a diverse array of high-value species as key strengths. Participants also described access to strong and diverse markets including traditional processors and multiple avenues for direct marketing to restaurants and individual consumers as strengths. Participants highlighted the strong social relationships between fishermen and with external entities such as local governments and management agencies. The community has gotten support for investment in port needs including infrastructure – which fishermen noted is some of the best in the state. The local fishing organization, Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara (CFSB), was described as both strong and effective and fishermen recounted overall high levels of job satisfaction in the port.  


Participants noted some areas for improvement in local markets including the potential to develop more direct marketing, to improve connections between fishermen and restaurants and to improve the reliability of international markets. They outlined concerns related to the high cost of living in the Santa Barbara area and the high cost of limited entry permits which can keep out new fishermen. Participants also conveyed concerns related to the future health of their fisheries including warming ocean temperatures, loss of kelp forest and management which could further limit access to fisheries in the future. They felt relationships with the state could be improved and noted a disconnect between local priorities and state representation.


MPA Takeaways

Participants described an array of negative effects from local and regional MPAs (state and federal) including loss of access to resources (including important fishing grounds close to the port), compaction of fishing on MPA boundaries and increased safety concerns and business costs. They expressed concerns about lack of information available about management priorities, including concerns around MPA boundary expansion, lack of clarity on monitoring, and inconsistent enforcement of MPAs. Participants expressed disdain on the failure to consider the Northern Channel Island (NCI) MPAs as part of the coastal MPA network and not considering the science guidance for NCI MPAs.


Direct from focus group participants

“As far as our local facilities, I think we’ve got probably the best port, up and down [the California coast]. [In other ports,] there’s no place to get ice, you can’t sell your fish on your own. You have to go through somebody else that’s going to charge you 30 or 25 or 50 cents a pound to unload you. Santa Barbara, we have the best.” 

“We just essentially re-upped our board for CFSB with seven guys that volunteered to be board members. That’s the way we try to structure it is that each of the seven represents a gear type. So we get the diversity of perspectives within our board’s function and in that way too we pick challenges that are designed to elevate the entire community and the entire port.” 

“The one thing that I think is extremely negative is that when they originally set up the plan, they asked fishermen where the areas were they didn’t want the MPAs, and that’s right where they put them, in some really prime turf [. . .] they took some really, really productive turf. So that, I mean, they targeted areas that we told them we wanted to keep.”

“I wouldn’t recommend my son starting out in a fishery down here because of the cost of entering it. The cost of living is so much more [in Santa Barbara] for the new people that are getting into it. The idea of starting a family and buying a house in Santa Barbara is fairly restrictive.”

“I, personally, was pretty darn discouraged on the whole implications long-term with respect to where the state was going [during MPA implementation] and much they valued what we [commercial fishermen] were doing.”

Top image: Santa Barbara Harbor. Credit: Rachelle Fisher, Strategic Earth