Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

California's Diverse Seafood Economy


At the San Diego fresh fish market held near Seaport Village each Saturday morning, commercial fishermen sell their fresh catches right off the boat to the public. Photo courtesy of the Port of San Diego.

From Crescent City to San Diego, California boasts a robust and lucrative commercial fishing industry that supports communities up and down the coast.

More than 357 million pounds of fish landed in state waters in 2014, including more than 227 million pounds of squid, more than 23 million pounds of northern anchovy, more than 18 million pounds of Dungeness crab and more than 17 million pounds of Pacific sardine, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

More than 120,000 jobs are linked to the seafood industry and about $201 million in ex-vessel revenue came from commercial fishing, according to 2011 statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That is why there has been such a strong effort by communities in recent years to maintain their fishing hubs, whether it is creating partnerships with other organizations or establishing sustainability plans to maintain this long-standing economic driver.


Located along California's jagged Central Coast, Monterey is known for its diverse marine life and Cannery Row, where canning factories once operated, which was made famous by author and local John Steinbeck.

Since the 1930s, Monterey has been a working waterfront and fishing port, generating more than $70 million in earnings between 1990 and 2011, including $19 million from groundfish, according to a recent study.

In 2011, commercial fishermen earned $6 million and landed some 25 million pounds of seafood in Monterey's Municipal Wharf II.

In 2014, Monterey landed 67 million pounds of squid. "commercial fishing in Monterey remains a really important feature in the community, both culturally and economically," said Steve Scheiblauer, harbormaster for the city of Monterey.

It's a big reason why Monterey created a Community Sustainability Plan, completed nearly three years ago, that included 35 recommendations for growing and maintaining commercial fishing in the area.

Several of these recommendations have been implemented or are in the works, including a determination that Wharf II would remain a fishing-related structure.

Also, Monterey has established a nonprofit, the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust, that would seek to acquire groundfish closures in an effort to diversify fisheries in the area.

"One of the reasons people come here is to see a working waterfront and to eat very fresh, locally caught seafood. We have a really big interest in making sure that part of the fisheries work."

Santa Barbara

The beachside community known for its wine and tourism maintains a long fishing history dating back to the Chumash Indians, the local tribe who sustained themselves on the fish they caught.

Today, Santa Barbara continues to be one of California's biggest commercial fishing generators, ranking 11th in the state in 2013 with $10.9 million.

Roughly 100 miles from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is nestled along the Central Coast, where the mix of warm water from the south and cool water from the north creates a diverse environment in which more than 500 fish species live or rest, according to the County of Santa Barbara.

"Santa Barbara is uniquely located geographically to take advantage of a lot of that," said Chris Voss, a lobster fisherman and executive director of the nonprofit organization Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara. "It's a highly productive area, and Santa Barbara is very fortunate to have a variety of different fisheries that are pretty substantial."

This year, however, a variety of factors have hit Santa Barbara hard, from an oil spill last year that oozed more than 100,000 gallons of crude from the Plains All American pipeline onto beaches, fishing areas and shellfish operations, to the closure of rock crab fishing because of high domoic acid levels.

Voss added that Santa Barbara is among the biggest ports for rock crab fishing in the state.

Though the closure from the oil spill was short-lived, there's a perception that Santa Barbara's fish were damaged by the spill and that's not the case, Voss said.

Fishermen who export lobster also saw a decline in prices because of a weak Chinese economy and a decreased demand, Voss said.

Last year, the price of lobster ended around $23 to $25. This year, prices ended around $19 to $21, he said.

"We've had a trying year," Voss said.

Voss said his organization is open to working with other groups to raise awareness of the economic importance of commercial fishing in Santa Barbara.

For example, Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara's work with the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce led to the recent hiring of a person to address the challenges created by last year's oil spill.

"We need to do that as fishermen to demonstrate our capacity to collaborate with organizations," Voss said. "Everybody wants to see a healthy, productive ocean."

San Diego

The second largest city in California boasts four commercial fishing vessel areas: Driscoll's Wharf, in North Bay near Shelter Island; Tuna Harbor in the downtown area; Mission Bay and Oceanside Harbor.

Roughly 130 commercial fishermen are based in those locations catching a wide variety of fish that include rock fish, rock crab, urchin, black cod, and sheepshead. In the more distant waters of the open sea they catch albacore, bluefin and yellowfin tuna as well as opah.

In 2009, the Port completed a Commercial Fisheries Revitalization Study under a grant from the California Coastal Conservancy. The study contains recommendations for enhancing the sustainability of commercial fishing through infrastructure improvements and enhanced marketing.

This company, engaged in kelp harvesting operations, sells the kelp as well as using it to feed a commercial abalone farm under the city's wharf. Photo by Eric Palmer courtesy of the City of Monterey.

One of the recommendations is a public seafood market for commercial fishermen. In 2014, the port partnered with the commercial fishermen in San Diego to develop the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, which operates every Saturday on Fish Harbor Pier, behind Seaport Village and adjacent to the Tuna Harbor commercial fishing slips.

"By allowing fishermen to sell directly to the public, Tuna Harbor Dockside Market has helped the fishermen to realize a higher price for their catch," said Jim Hutzelman, manager of Business Development & Recreation Services at the Port of San Diego.

Prices for fish have been up substantially this year compared to last year, with area fishermen estimating more than 20 percent for some species, Hutzelman said.

"The market has also served to promote the local commercial fishing industry to restaurants, resulting in an increase of direct restaurant sales by the fishermen," he said.


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