The Central California Coast town of Morro Bay is a place I have vacationed at since I was in the womb. It’s always been a second home for my family, and that is why I became excited when I read about The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Central Coast Groundfish Project. Through the Project, TNC works with coastal communities, including commercial fishermen. The Project addresses overfishing and the destruction of ocean habitats, according to TNC’s website.
TNC began partnering in 2005 with regulatory agencies and Central Coast fishermen when both successfully petitioned fishery managers to create 3.8 million acres of no-trawl zones in Central Coast waters. The West Coast groundfish fishing industry saw decreasing revenue. In 1987, the value of the fishery was $110 million, but by 2003 it was $35 million. The decrease was caused by catch restrictions designed to rebuild the overfished species.
The West Coast groundfish fishing industry relied on botton trawling, dragging nets along the seafloor. Bottom trawling sweeps up everything around the nets, which results in bycatch. West Coast groundfish are species made up of 83 species, but 12 of them comprise 61 percent of the fishery’s value, and five of the 12 are considered overfished.
“Overreliance on this fishing method, with its high bycatch and seafloor impacts, greatly contributed to increased laws and restrictions on where and when fishing could occur, which, in turn, led to a drastic decline in the fishery’s economic performance,” according to TNC.
One way that TNC partners with Central Coast fishermen is by buying federal trawl fishing permits, what commercial fishermen must have to fish, and leasing them back to fishermen who then have to following certain conservation practices. TNC is the first non-governmental organization (NGO) to own federal trawling permits.
TNC and fishermen are focusing on key areas:
- Markets—creating new ways to take advantage of the growing demand for sustainbly caught local seafood
- Local management—Pioneering a new management model that would rely on a more collaborative approach
- Science and harvest innovation—Using fishing demonstration projects to conduct research
TNC is now working with Central Coast commercial fishermen to use TNC-owned permits to test ways to transition from trawl fishing to less harmful hook-and-line and trap methods. It is TNC’s goal to reach a 50 percent trawl reduction in the Central Coast. TNC has two other goals for the collaboration with fishermen:
- Launch research projects to improve scientific understanding of fish stock and ecosystem health as well as fishing impacts.
- Build a lasting fishery institution that can hold and manage fishery assets and incorporate conservation objectives into its business decision making.
Considering the amount of seafood the average American consumers per year (16.5 pounds), and the growing desire among consumers for local, sustainable seafood, the Central Coast Groundfish Project is important. It represents a market approach to ocean conservation.