Local Fishermen On Course to Become Future Leaders

Troy Dooley and others watch on as Carlos Garza demonstrates methodologies for stock identification and population structure in the genetics lab.

Local fishermen and future leaders take crash course in fisheries science and management.

For Brendan Pini and Kyle Pemberton—two California captains—being a commercial fisherman means much more than simply knowing how to land the catch.

Main engines and generators, hydraulic, electrical and plumbing systems all need regular upkeep and seem to malfunction at the worst time on the water. Then there’s the constant stress of keeping both the business and the boat afloat.

But the steepest learning curve fishermen often face is navigating the scientific and regulatory bureaucracies that dictate what they can and can’t do on the water.

To tackle this challenge, the two men participated in the Marine Resource Education Program (MREP) West Coast in September and October, which featured a crash course in fisheries science and management for future leaders in the industry. The program included two, three-day workshops in Santa Cruz and Portland, Oregon respectively.

“I learned a ton. I went because I wanted to know more about how to get involved and steer regulation,” said Pini, 29, who fishes for salmon, sand dabs, halibut and sea bass on his 18-foot Boston Whaler, the F/V Mycelium, out of Santa Cruz. “I really have a lot of respect for all the checks and balances in place.”

Pini attended the MREP West Coast training with the help of a scholarship provided by the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute, which runs the program nationally, covers the cost of travel, food, and lodging expenses. However, the six days of trainings, plus travel time, is time away from earning money on the water.  

This can be costly to fishermen like Pini who says he often lives “offload to offload.” That’s why MBFT provides scholarships to local fishermen so the training won’t be a sunk cost of lost fish.

The MREP curriculum was first developed by fishermen in the Northeast with the help of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in 2001. Since that time, the MREP program has spread to six regions across the United States, bringing charter, recreational and commercial fishermen together with scientists and managers to find a “common language,” said Alexa Dayton, the MREP program manager for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

New England fisherman created the program to overcome the frustration many had felt while trying to engage in the federal management process, Dayton said.

Federal fisheries, those between 3 and 200 miles offshore, are overseen by eight regional fisheries management councils, covering both states and territories. The Councils are made up of appointed stakeholders from each region, and synthesizing the science and diverse interests is a complicated process.

“Fishermen said ‘you want us to show up to council meetings but you’re speaking in acronyms above our head. Then there’s public comment, but it seems like the decision has been already made before we’ve had the chance to say anything,’” Dayton said of a common complaint of the Council process.

“But when you bring a group together with different voices (at MREP workshops), fishermen can hear it right from the chief scientist or manager,” she said. “You find that everyone can meet on common ground.”

For Pemberton, a 30-year-old who fishes for groundfish, salmon and Dungeness crab on the F/V Moriah Lee out of Morro Bay and Half Moon Bay, the six days of workshops have given him better insight into the science and the politics behind the quota allocation and the regulations he must abide by.

“I would say there’s a lot more science going into to their numbers than I would have every imagined,” Pemberton said.

Bob Dooley, a lifelong commercial fisherman, Pacific Fishery Management Council member and MBFT board member, has been the MREP West Coast lead since the program came to the Pacific states three years ago.

“Young guys aren’t done with their job once they’ve caught the fish,” said Bob Dooley. “You have to go to council meetings to protect your right to fish, but if you don’t understand the process then you’ll have no clue what is going on.”

And through the MREP training, new leaders know what’s going on and understand actions through the regulatory process that are often years in the making.

“I’m young and trying to learn about the history and how our laws work,” said Pemberton. “The best thing about the program is it will help me steer my own future.”  

Since the first cohort of New England fisherman went through the program in 2002, more than 1,600 people have received leadership training through the program, Dayton said. Currently around the United States, 40 percent of appointees to regional fisheries management councils are MREP alumni, she notes.

MREP West Coast - Class of 2018

MREP West Coast - Class of 2018

Roger Burleigh