Collaboration between Fishermen and Environmental Groups Results in a Win-Win for Everyone

Observer viewing groundfish haul on the F/V Pioneer. Photo by: Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Pennisi

Observer viewing groundfish haul on the F/V Pioneer. Photo by: Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Pennisi

May 2, 2018

Commercial fishermen, conservationists and policy makers have worked out a plan that benefits the ocean environment and commercial fishermen on the West Coast – and it all started in Monterey! In April, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) moved to protect 140,000 square miles of ecologically sensitive marine habitat, while opening thousands of square miles of previously closed fishing grounds.

It started back in 2002, when a large region of the ocean was set aside as a Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA), closed to commercial fishing to protect species that had dropped in number, like Bocaccio, Canary, and Darkblotched rockfish. Fishermen depended on these areas to catch other, more abundant species, like Petrale sole and Chilipepper rockfish. The RCA closure was followed in 2006 by additional bottom trawl closures known as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH), which were closed to protect mostly rocky bottom structures that are home to many juvenile rockfish species. However, the 2006 EFH closures were created with limited available information at the time. Closing these areas in addition to the RCA had major negative impacts on groundfish production and infrastructure, and created economic hardship for fishing communities.

David Crabbe, Board President of the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust, commercial fisherman, and member of the PFMC, explains: “For the PFMC’s 5-year review process of EFH areas, stakeholder groups sat down, which included fishermen and environmental organizations, to review updated habitat information on the existing EFH areas. The PFMC then used this information at our April meeting, to approve a new EFH configuration, which protects habitat that is more sensitive to trawling, like pinnacles, canyons, rock cliffs, and coral fields where young rockfish hide from predators. In turn, the areas that have been opened are mostly soft muddy bottoms, which will allow fishermen access to harvest schools of healthy mature rockfish.”  In 2015, studies conducted by CSUMB and The Nature Conservancy found that trawling on California's soft bottom habitat has negligible impacts.

In addition, because groundfish trawlers are required to have 100% monitoring and accountability (meaning, they have to have a federally-trained observer on their boat counting every pound of fish that they catch), and because almost all of the previously depleted groundfish stocks have been rebuilt, the PFMC unanimously voted that the RCA in Oregon and California could be reopened to bottom trawl fishing.

What makes this deal such exciting news is that it was the result of communities working together to find solutions that benefit our ocean and local economy. And it all started in Monterey, when local fishermen worked together with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and environmental groups including The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, and National Resource Defense Council, to go over the new habitat survey data and map out which local areas should be closed and which reopened. This successful collaboration then served as a model for the rest of the West Coast.


Dr. James Lindholm of the Institute for Applied Marine Ecology, CSUMB, discusses the results of his research with The Nature Conservancy on the impacts of trawling on California’s soft bottom habitat.

Sherry Flumerfelt