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College of Science and Mathematics

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SLOSEA Offers Aid, Research to Improve Rough Spots in New Federal Fishing Regulations

Sept. 7, 2011

SAN LUIS OBISPO – Cal Poly’s Center for Coastal Marine Sciences is working with local fishermen and federal and state officials to help smooth out rough spots in new commercial catch regulations.

Jane Lubchenco, Head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), came to Morro Bay in August for a private meeting with fishermen from the Central Coast and Northern California, city and state legislative officials and conservation agency representatives.

Dean Wendt

Professor Wendt

Professor Dean Wendt, Executive Director of SLOSEA (San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance) and Associate Dean of the university’s College of Science and Mathematics, was also invited to attend the meeting. Wendt and other researchers from the Center for Coastal Marine Sciences have an active program studying the health of the Morro Bay Estuary and the nearshore oceans off the Central Coast, from Cape San Martin to Point Conception.

At the NOAA meeting, “My main input was to stress the importance of linking the fishing industry’s observations with the kind of scientific information we are collecting,” Wendt said.

Cal Poly professors and students have been working with local fishermen for the past five years in SLOSEA’s California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program to gather data on the status of fish populations in local waters. Students and professors are regularly onboard local fishing boats catching, counting, measuring, and releasing fish species at designated study spots.

Among other things, they’re using the data to develop new models for managing California’s nearshore fisheries. They are also documenting the impact of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which restrict or forbid fishing. SLOSEA researchers are interested in how management impacts fishermen and the local economy as well as fish populations.

The latest change in fishing regulations began in January 2011, when NOAA launched a new catch-share program for commercial ground-fish. The program regulations cover nearly half of the state’s ground-fishing areas. “The main fishing industry off the Central Coast relies on healthy stocks of ground-fish,” Wendt said.

Previously, commercial fishermen could catch bottom-dwelling fish only during a specified season each year, and there were coast-wide limits set for the entire fishery. Individual fishermen with permits could fish until the coast-wide limit was reached.

NOAA’s new “catch share” regulations and permits now allot each individual fisherman a limit on the pounds of ground-fish he or she is allowed to harvest. Once that quota is met, the fisherman and his (or her) boat are done for the year.

The change is supposed to decrease the “race to fish” mentality and give fishermen an incentive to increase their marine stewardship efforts, said Wendt. The impact of that catch share program was the topic of the stakeholder meeting with NOAA Head Lubchenco Aug. 19.

Some fishermen and fishing communities like Morro Bay on the Central Coast and Ft. Bragg in Northern California fear the new regulations will drive local individual fishing boats to go out of business. They worry small operations will sell their ground-fish quotas to large commercial fishing companies based in big port cities. And that could mean small seaside fishing communities and small-business fishing operations will dwindle and disappear.

Lubchenco told stakeholders that NOAA did not want to see that happen. Wendt told the group Cal Poly’s Center for Coastal Marine Sciences could provide data to help shape solutions to potential problems that may arise from the new ground-fish rules.

“Small fishing communities and their heritage are a valuable part of the environment,” Wendt said. “SLOSEA can serve as a connection between the community and its marine resources, and provide scientific data to help decision-makers manage those resources for their continued human use and enjoyment.”

About SLOSEA (San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance):
For the past seven years the SLOSEA Program has been conducting research thanks to more than $4 million in grants from private foundations and government agencies. The SLOSEA program strives to bring that scientific data to those making resource management and policy decisions.
Groups funding SLOSEA’s work include the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Coastal Conservancy, The Morro Bay National Estuary Program, The Campbell Foundation, the Resource Legacy Fund Foundation, and the California Ocean Protection Council.
To learn more about SLOSEA.



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