The Ventura – Channel Islands focus group discussion on September 16, 2020 included three community members from a range of commercial fisheries. Participants provided their perspectives on MPA outcomes and the health and well-being of the Ventura – Channel Islands 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 Ventura – Channel Islands discussion, see this focus group summary. For more information on focus group participant recruitment selection criteria, see this recruitment process overview.
Participants expressed mixed views regarding the perceived ecological outcomes of the MPA network. They felt there were negative outcomes to certain fisheries such as sea urchin, as well as positive effects on certain fisheries including sea cucumber. Overall, the focus group felt MPAs had no effect on fisheries such as lobster that readily move in and out of MPAs. Fishermen also expressed concerns about negative impacts related to increased fishing pressure in certains areas outside the MPA boundaries. While they highlighted concerns of the potential negative or neutral impact of MPAs on certain species, they did express a belief that setting aside areas can be a good thing to help rehabilitate the populations for some species like sea cucumber. Participants described negative effects of the MPAs on their livelihoods and fishing practices including increased travel times, increased competition and crowding in non protected areas, with decreased fishing grounds overall. Overall, the participants shared that they were dissatisfied with the management of the MPA network. Management concerns included (1) feeling that a lack of communication by MPA managers created unknowns about what was happening and what the motivations were, (2) feeling that promises made during implementation about adaptive management and the potential to reopen areas over time have not seemed to come to fruition, (3) feeling that they did not have sufficient access to information about monitoring that has been taking place.
“I would say [sea urchin] catches are trending up a little bit now that we have some more kelp and because of the fact that quite a few guys [. . .] took other jobs or maybe they were already at retirement age [. . .] It just seems like there’s a little bit less pressure and a little bit more seaweed. […]We’re not in a great place, but it was worse a few years ago.”
“I keep seeing less keepers and more short lobsters in our area while I’m pulling my traps. So I’ll usually see like 50-50 some years, and the last two years, I’ve been seeing more shorts than the keepers.”
“The thing that I’m concerned about is more just ocean or climate change and its effect on the fisheries [. . .] if the warm waters persist and the kelp is just at a lower level in my lifetime than it was in a previous fisherman’s lifetime.”
“There’s some strong relationships within the [fisheries in Ventura], like a real bond there. Being a younger guy, I’ve definitely had a handful of older fishermen [who are] like mentors that took me under their wing at the beginning, so I’d describe those relationships as strong.”
“As far as diversity of fisheries, I think that’s pretty good. [. . .] There’s plenty you can do if you have some tenacity to figure it out.”
“There are not enough buyers [in Ventura harbor] and I don’t think my harbor supports the buyers to come to our harbor because they charge an additional fee.”
“I started out full-time fishing and then I took on another job. […] You can definitely make a living full-time, but everybody has a different standard of living. Guys have different work ethics and different financial means and for some guys, it seems like they really struggle to make ends meet and there’s some that do really well.”
“It’s just all become too political; fishing is not like it used to be. It used to be great, […] but [the] environmental groups that are against us are way more vast and way more funded than we are, and we are not structured enough to gain funding beyond the fact that we’re not a fundable group.”
“We have one fish hoist in Ventura harbor for all the commercial guys, we have one pier that we’re not even allowed to drive on anymore [. . .] our harbor for sure is not a good harbor towards commercial fishing and our harbor is designated as a commercial harbor. So it annoys me that there’s limited slip space.”
“I do think that MPAs are a good thing on a certain scale, like the science behind it and what we’ve seen, it’s good to have little reserves to buffer the populations. For the sea cucumber fishery, I think that was really good, like those animals have to aggregate really densely to spawn and it’s good to have some areas for them to do that [and] get no pressure whatsoever. So for that fishery, I would lean towards the neutral to positive.”
“A lot of these MPAs when, they were implemented, that was part of their sales technique was ‘hey, we’re going to close this and open it up and close something else, hopefully to better the reefs so it’s more sustainable even after it’s fished again because it’s gotten growth on it.’ So it’s funny because I just look back at it – all the freakin’ meetings and all the things I’ve gone to – and it just comes back to: they take something and then they’re never going to give it back.”