Ventura /
Channel Islands

Cohort Participants

Discussion Date

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.



Focus group participants from Ventura/Channel Islands described the health of marine resources in the area as an overall strength. They indicated that the resources they target are generally sea urchin, sea cucumber and rock crabs, and that these fisheries are doing particularly well. Participants did, however, note some issues with the lobster populations, expressing concerns related to too much fishing pressure and the increase of many small or sub-legal lobsters at the moment. Participants expressed overall confidence about the future of their marine resources, although some shared minor concerns related to potential impacts from climate change. Fishing community members described social relationships among fishermen from the port as another key strength. They expressed how fishing community members from the ports tend to work together and share knowledge, and also see value in the mentorship that older fishermen have provided to newer fishermen entering in the industry. Participants highlighted strong levels of job satisfaction in the port, especially in the long-term once their business is more established. Participants also described the level of access to a range of fisheries from the port as a key strength, highlighting the longevity of divers in the sea urchin and sea cucumber fisheries along with increasing opportunities for the Ventura squid industry. 


Participants described areas for improvement in the diversity and quality of markets for selling catch in Ventura/Channel Islands. They expressed an interest in seeing more direct marketing opportunities in both Venture and the Channel Islands. They indicated that it is difficult to sell fish to buyers in Ventura Harbor because they charge an additional unloading tax which decreases profits. Participants expressed that it is often difficult for fishermen to make a living from fishing alone and several local fishermen have had to seek out additional income sources. They also described the high cost of permits along with the lottery system for certain permits as challenges that make it difficult to make a living as a fisherman, in addition to making it difficult for new entrants to come into the local industry. The focus group expressed concerns related to the port infrastructure in both Ventura and Channel Islands. They stated that in Ventura Harbor there is only one working hoist and one pier with long wait times, as well as limited slip space for commercial vessels. In addition, the Channel Islands does not have an ice machine. Participants shared that relationships with external entities such as management agencies, local government and environmental NGOs (ENGOs) was an area for improvement. They perceived that fishing had become too political and felt that certain ENGOs were targeting the industry. Participants stated that many fishermen from the port do not want to get involved in policy processes because they do not believe that their involvement will make a difference in the outcome of management decisions.


MPA Takeaways

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. 


Direct from focus group participants

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.”

Top image: Inflatable skiff driving into Channel Island Harbor. Credit: Ken Lund