Proposal For Protecting Local Fishing Fleet: Create a Heritage Fishing Area
by Carol Georgi and Karl Kempton
Imagine a San Luis Obispo (SLO) County Heritage Fishing Area encompassing both Morro Bay and Port San Luis with its heritage fishery as protected waters from the coast to 45 miles offshore for the local fishing community. Heritage fisheries can be carefully maintained aquatic areas where the habitats within the ecosystems surrounding fishing are protected from today's modern hazards. The goal of preserving fishing for the future can be achieved by using sustainable fishing methods.
The overall concept of a designated heritage fishing area is to create a large sustainable fishery (already in its infant efforts) in which only local family run and operated fishing boats are permitted to fish until the fish stock is healthy enough to allow outside family run and operated boats to participate. How outside boats participate in the local fishery would be up to the local fishery organizations. A heritage fishing area in the SLO County coastal waters could be protected and supported by marine sanctuary designation or by an extension of a national marine sanctuary.
Imagine local fresh fish labels stating: "Morro Bay and Port San Luis Sustainable Seafood" --- local branding appealing to millions of potential consumers.
FishWise defines sustainability "as coming from sources, whether fished or farmed, that can maintain or increase production in the future without jeopardizing the structure or function of affected ecosystems. This video by FishWise is an "Introduction to Sustainable Seafood."
Sustainable Seafood Resources
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Guide
Seafood Low Mercury List
These two websites give information on locations where locally caught sustainable seafood can be purchased in SLO County.
Old Port Fish and Seafood
Central Coast Seafood
Commercial Fish Landings at Morro Bay and Port San Luis
The SLO County local fishing community would benefit by having a sustainable heritage fishing area. According to the Morro Bay and Port San Luis Commercial Fisheries Business Plans by Lisa Wise Consulting Inc., commercial fish landings (weight and ex-vessel-value---the price paid to fishermen at the dock) have dropped drastically over the last twenty-five years. This decline in fish landings from 1985 to 2009 has been devastating to the local fishing community. In 1985, approximately 15 million pounds were landed. In 2009, fish landings dropped to less than 3 million pounds. Over the same time period, earnings at the dock for fishermen (ex-vessel value) have dropped from a high of $19 million (annually) in 1985 to approximately $4.8 million in 2009. Figure 1 shows a fairly steady decline in fish landings from 1990-2007, and an increase in 2009 to 2,900,000 pounds. (Port San Luis / Fishing)
There are many reasons for the decline in commercial fish landings in Morro Bay and Port San Luis. For example, reporting on the 2009 increase in fish landings, David Sneed stated in the SLO Tribune, "After decades of being a highly productive port, fishing in Morro Bay nearly collapsed in 2005 when federal regulators placed 3.8 million acres of ocean floor near the Central Coast off-limits to trawling." Sneed also stated, "Fishermen say the current rebound is due to their efforts to shift away from trawling by using hook and line and traps, along with loosening of catch limits and other restrictions." (See Article)
Additional reasons for the decline in commercial fish stock may continue as threats to the fishing community: Once Through Cooling (OTC) at power plants, ocean pollution, wastewater outfall, agriculture waste, oil spills, storm-water runoff, overfishing, and the threat of corporate commercial fishing fleets overwhelming the local family operated boats.
The destruction of fish larvae and eggs caused by Once Through Cooling (OTC) at power plants is often overlooked. Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant (DCNPP) kills about 1.7 billion fish larvae each year. Also destroyed are uncountable numbers of planktonic life forms, including fish eggs. Operation of DCNPP began in 1985. A possible correlation can be made between 1) big oil searching for oil deposits in San Luis and Estero Bays in the early 1980's with the use of huge blasting of dynamite charges and 2) the destruction of 1.7 billion fish larvae and the uncountable numbers of planktonic life forms, including fish eggs each year by OTC beginning in 1985 with the nearly steady decline in commercial fish landings at the two ports on either side of DCNPP beginning in 1986. (Read more: Slo Coast Journal / December 2011)
San Luis Obispo County, National Marine Sanctuaries, and a Local Heritage Fishing Community
Imagine a local heritage fishing area in the San Luis Obispo coastal waters protected and supported by a locally controlled national marine sanctuary advisory council.
San Luis Obispo (SLO) coastal waters sit between two national marine sanctuaries, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) to the north, and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) to the south. The U S Congress considers the habitats and marine life of these sanctuaries important to study and protect. Yet, between these two sanctuaries lies a convergence of both southern and northern marine life, as well as a constant upwelling that feeds the marine life traveling between the two sanctuaries, an area certainly in need of study and protection of its ecosystems for sustainability of its inhabitants due to the national and international significance. One wonders why there is no sanctuary for scientific study and protection in most of SLO coastal waters.
The 1990 San Luis Obispo County’s sanctuary proposal, Central Coast National Marine Sanctuary (CCNMS), whose borders would have gone from Mill Creek, Monterey County to the southern flank of Point Sal, Santa Barbara County, could have existed for the past twenty years had this 1990 proposal been approved by our U S Congress. However, at that time, only the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary proposal was approved. In fact, the MBNMS began by extending south to Santa Rosa Creek in Cambria, picking up 2 of the 8 core areas of the CCNMS, leaving most of San Luis Obispo County coastal waters without a marine sanctuary and monies that would have come to SLO County to support such a project.
Additionally, in March 2009, MBNMS added a third core area of SLO’s original sanctuary proposal by adding the Davidson Seamount area. Now, MBNMS may be considering a third expansion south to include the Montebello shipwreck.
The 1990 CCNMS document remains and is posted in the title heading of this article. SLO County stakeholders agreed to a marine sanctuary in 1990, as seen by their letters of support, including the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the city of Morro Bay. According to the U S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), marine sanctuaries represent many things to many people. Each national marine sanctuary can focus on natural classrooms, cherished recreational spots, and valuable commercial industries such as heritage fishing communities.
Much has changed in the last twenty years, and our local fishing community, more than ever, needs our help. In 2012, we find ourselves concerned about the world-wide loss of fish stocks, especially in the Atlantic Ocean due largely to overfishing by large factory ships. A major international scientific study released in November 2006 in the journal Science found that about one-third of all fishing stocks worldwide have collapsed (with a collapse being defined as a decline to less than 10% of their maximum observed abundance), and that if current trends continue all fish stocks worldwide will collapse within fifty years. Science Magazine
Below is the NOAA Map of Overfished Stocks as of September 30, 2011.
Map of Overfished Stock as of September 30, 2011 by NOAA
While fishermen are often blamed for the loss of fish stocks, business as usual continues with killing and endangering marine life by polluting our coastal waters with wastewater, toxic run off, and once through cooling at power plants. Our coastal waters are part of our environment. We depend on these waters for food, surfing, tourism, recreation, jobs, and oxygen. We need to work with the fishermen to study and protect our treasured waters. A national marine sanctuary with a local sustainable heritage fishing area could become world famous and truly be the marine treasure of San Luis Obispo County.