The Shelter Cove focus group discussion on October 19, 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 Shelter Cove’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 Shelter Cove discussion, see this focus group summary. For more information on focus group participant recruitment selection criteria, see this recruitment process overview.
Shelter Cove focus group participants expressed that social relationships were a key strength in the port and highlighted the recent formation of a fishing organization, Shelter Cove Fishing Preservation, Inc (SCFPI), that has helped to provide reliable tractor service, has brought the fishing community together and has been engaged in policy processes. They described the Shelter Cove as a tight-knit group with a supportive community and noted that a younger generation of fishermen have been getting more involved. Overall, participants expressed high levels of job satisfaction among fishermen from the port. They did note that there continued to be areas for improvement among social relationships, including getting more fishermen beyond SCFPI engaged in policy processes.
Focus group participants indicated that infrastructure and markets were key challenges for the small, rural port. Participants noted that Shelter Cove lacks key pieces of infrastructure found in most other ports, such as a processing facility, cold storage, ice, or a marina/docks. One of the only ways to launch boats in and out of the water is through the tractor service, which had been unreliable in the past. Even with greater reliability at present, the tractor launch still requires careful planning and coordination which can limit fishing times and cause delays. Participants indicated that Shelter Cove had very limited access to markets. There is only one buyer who comes to Shelter Cove and they have unreliable scheduling. Fishermen often have to get creative, trucking their catch to buyers in Eureka or meeting buyers on the highway as they travel to the Bay Area. Participants said that if one fisherman from Shelter Cove delivers catch that is not fresh or high quality to a buyer that can affect the reputation of the port and buyers may decide it is not worth it to purchase Shelter Cove catch at all. Participants also noted challenges related to access to sufficient marine resources to support a living through fishing in Shelter Cove. They noted that permits were expensive and difficult to obtain especially in the smaller scale, lower income fishing community of Shelter Cove. They stated that increased access to deeper water fishing would be helpful. Participants also expressed concerns around the current and future health of the salmon fishery and around changing ocean conditions. Socially, participants described a hesitancy to engage in policy processes by some community members who had fears that what they say could lead to more restrictions. They also just described how difficult it was to fish out of a port with so few amenities and that could only support smaller vessels, describing instances where older fishermen wanted to continue fishing but they were not able to because the physical demands were too high.
Shelter Cove focus participants expressed uncertainty about the ecological outcomes from the MPA network. Several participants were unsure about the MPA effects on marine resource health because they are unable to fish in MPAs to gauge the outcomes. Another participant believed that the MPAs caused negative impacts to overall marine health by increasing fishing pressure in other areas. Participants expressed a perception that the MPA network contributed to little to now livelihood impacts for Shelter Cove fishermen because of the strategic placement of MPAs away from important fishing grounds. They stated that this placement of MPAs away from the port and key grounds was especially important in Shelter Cove due to the port’s rough ocean conditions and smaller vessels that cannot safely travel longer distances. Participants expressed a desire for more monitoring students and better communication of the monitoring results and management activities. They noted that local fishermen from Shelter Cove were more aware of MPA boundaries than vessels that travelled to the area from other ports.
Direct from focus group participants
“The whole purpose behind [the SCFPI], is to get some infrastructure built and some stuff built for the fishing community. [. . .] We’ve got a couple of pictures of buildings and some drawings we did […] And so that’s sort of the future vision and it encompasses every aspect, from the tractor service to a fish processing plant with this new composter that helps handle fish waste and stuff. We put [the plan] together with [name redacted] and his son to hand to the property owner and the Harbor District and other governmental agencies that are involved in the property to say, ‘hey, this is our future and that when improvements are made, let’s try to make them along these lines.’”
“We’re having a good rock cod season, but salmon was kind of bleak with only really a month open for us. But if they [California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)/Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC)] opened up a little bit more areas for us to fish [that] would be nice. Give us more places to catch them, maybe deeper.”
“I think about it [changing ocean conditions] a lot. […] There’s also a part of me that says I’m sure the ocean goes through cycles, and I don’t think I’ve been alive long enough to see those cycles. And so there’s part of me that says, ‘yeah, it’s changing a lot, but who’s to say that it hasn’t done similar changes in the past?’”
“I feel like we’re fortunate where we still have a pretty [. . .] young corps [. . .] So I think the future is here. There’s enough young people involved where it’ll be going for a long time. [. . .] We are the younger generation and I think that we’re going to be sticking and staying and hopefully encouraging our kin to take over after us.”
“As a commercial fisherman, as a commercial crabber and doing it for a long time, the hardest thing is finding a place for it [crab] to be sold. We’re in the most remote place in the most remote port in Northern California. I mean, to get here is impossible. So to have somebody come pick our crab up, the 18 wheelers, they don’t want to do that. Why would they want to come out for our ten thousand pounds when they can just go somewhere else?”
“I’m actually doing fairly well with it [commercial fishing] at this point, but it’s a lot of work and there is a lot of pedaling. You’re taking fish around to people – you’re definitely doing some work. It would be a lot easier if there was a legal place to fillet fish because I have people come to the boat daily that want fish and you go to try to sell it to them and they want it filleted and technically you’re not supposed to fillet it for them without a processing facility. So you’re always battling [that]. You end up losing a lot of customers that don’t want a whole fish.”
“We lucked out enough to where they [MPAs] were put far enough away [. . .] from the Cove. [The MPAs] didn’t have a huge impact as far as deterring people away [from fishing].”
“I feel like they picked on us in a way because we’re so small here [and said,] ‘let’s preserve this place that’s untouched.’ [. . .] Why don’t they do that right outside San Francisco and close 20 miles or go shut down all their [fishing grounds]?”
Top image: Jetty in Shelter Cove. Credit: Cheryl Chen