Chumash National Marine Sanctuary Rejected by NOAA… For Now

‘We will look at this situation as a temporary setback for them and continue educating the public as to the many problems associated with a National Sanctuary system,” said Jeremiah O’Brien of the MBCFO. ‘We will be interested in the content of the new proposal as the rejection letter described many of its deficiencies in the area of management, which is the area that has many of us here on the Central Coast concerned.’

In a March 6 letter to Fred Collins of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, promoters of a proposed, new Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary off the Central Coast, Daniel Basta, Director of of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, stated: “The nomination, as submitted, is not sufficient to more forward with a more detailed review.”

Mr. Collins submitted the nomination seeking national sanctuary status for the Chumash Marine Sanctuary on February 2.

While the proposal in no longer currently eligible of review, Mr. Basta suggests in his letter that Mr. Collins could resubmit his nomination after responding adequately to all the information, national significance criteria and management considerations required by NOAA to move forward.

Responding to the announcement, Jeremiah O’Brien, Director of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization, said: “It appears the reasons [for rejecting the nomination] were lack of information and incomplete data on the application. The letter of rejection seems to encourage them to resubmit their proposal.

“Many of us have been trying to educate the public as to why it is not a good idea to turn over our ocean and beaches to federal control,” Mr. O’Brien told The ROCK. “We, therefore, will look at this situation as a temporary setback for them and continue educating the public as to the many problems associated with a National Sanctuary system. We will be interested in the content of the new proposal as the rejection letter described many of its deficiencies in the area of management. This is the area that has many of us here on the Central Coast concerned.”

Concluded Mr. O’Brien, “Losing or giving up control of our resources to federal management would be a shame. We believe our community is the best manager and steward or our coast, and our past performance speaks for itself.  We only have to walk outside our door, take a deep breath, look around, and realize we have done well, and we will continue that tradition on our own.”

The Chumash Sanctuary proposal is supported by the Santa Lucia chapter of the Sierra Club and District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson.

For more background on the debate surrounding the Chumash Sanctuary, read The ROCK:
http://www.rockofthecoast.com/2014/07/15/chumash-marine-sanctuary-sailing-for-noaa-nomination-without-fishermen-on-board/

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For more information on NOAA and the sanctuary nomination process, visit: website: http://www.nominate.noaa.gov/nominations/

SLO County Fishermen on Proposed Chumash National Marine Sanctuary: ‘We’re Unanimously Against It’

‘Once we take on these additional layers of bureaucracy and find out in the future about the problems it causes, we will not be able to turn back.’

By JEREMIAH O’BRIEN
Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization

Well, the sanctuary question is back on the table. This issue seems to arise every few years since Monterey got their sanctuary. This one is in the form of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. The commercial fishermen in our county are unanimously against it, and we have spoken to various sport fishing groups and have yet to find any one of these groups in support of a sanctuary in our area.

The sanctuary issue is a very big concern, not only for the fishing industry, but the entire county. This is an issue that should not be taken lightly. When we invite the federal government to take over control of our resources, we, meaning our communities, will lose the ability to manage our beaches, our ocean, our ports and our harbors.

The cost to communities for additional federal regulations governing areas such as runoff and discharges, currently administered by local and state government, will increase dramatically. These costs will severely impact our harbors and ports, increasing the difficulty for projects necessary for their operations, such as, dredging, soil samples, construction of docks and slips, as well as maintaining structures that are currently in place. Once we take on these additional layers of bureaucracy and find out in the future about the problems it causes, we will not be able to turn back.

Proponents of the National Marine Sanctuary issue have proclaimed there will be no loss of local control. Unfortunately, this is not true as “National Marine Sanctuary” clearly implies management will not be local but rather at the Federal level.

California Marine Affairs and Navigation Conference, or C-MANC, is a group of all of California’s harbors and the cities affiliated with those harbors. This group encompasses the area from San Diego to Crescent City, the entire length of our state, and deals directly in many of these areas with National Marine Sanctuaries, such as the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and the Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary.

C-MANC has issued a legislative policy statement concerning marine sanctuaries, which consists of a list of five problems. Some of those problems include disposal of dredge materials, and requirements to the already burdensome federal and state processes, vessel traffic, fishing regulations, either direct or indirect, and general maintenance issues. And finally, C-MANC’s legislative policy reads: “C-MANC recommends suspending the expansion of existing sanctuaries until the problems identified above are resolved.” We should remember these are the representatives of their respective areas, many who are living under the umbrella of the National Marine Sanctuaries.

Our county, cities, towns, and commercial and sport fishermen have long been very outstanding stewards of our ocean. We work with many state, federal and environmental groups, as well as universities and colleges. The Central Coast has been the “poster child” of how to do things right in many discussions and meetings held in California, on the East Coast as well as our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. And finally, it is important to remember the amount of fishing grounds closed to some form of fishing, those include Marine Protected Areas, Essential Fish Habitat Areas, and Rock Cod Conservation Areas. I think we can be very proud of our stewardship of the Central Coast.

I guess I just love the Central Coast, and when my wife and I step outside and look around, we remind ourselves every single day of what we have here. We do not think additional layers of bureaucracy would be in the best interest or add to the beauty of this area.

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Report: Morro Bay Fishing Industry on the Upswing

Predicting how good the fishing will be in Morro Bay next year—amid shifting markets, changing ocean and ongoing regulatory constraints—is tricky business. However, even if the October report on state of the industry, “Morro Bay Commercial Fisheries 2014 Economic Impact Report,” covering the 2013 calendar year, is a fair-weather snapshot of current trends, Morro Bay fishing is in for some good economic times ahead.

By ED OCHS

Predicting how good the fishing will be in Morro Bay next year—amid shifting markets, changing ocean and ongoing regulatory constraints—is tricky business.

However, even if the October report on state of the industry, “Morro Bay Commercial Fisheries 2014 Economic Impact Report,” covering the 2013 calendar year, is a fair-weather snapshot of current trends, Morro Bay fishing is in for some good economic times ahead.

“In 2013, the commercial fishing industry in Morro Bay continued a powerful trend in increased earnings and landings from a 20-year low in 2007, states the report. “In the last seven years, earnings have increased over 350% and landings have risen more than seven and a half fold.”

“That the earnings are spread across a broad range of fishery types, aimed at differing habitats using different gear, is another indicator of sustainability,” according to the April 2104 companion report, “City of Morro Bay Fishing Community Sustainability Plan.” “Fishermen in Morro Bay target Spot prawn, Pacific hagfish and sablefish with traps, groundfish with hook and line and trawl, squid with purse seine nets, swordfish with drift gillnets, and salmon by surface troll.”

The 2014 editions of the “Economic Impact Report” and “Sustainability Plan” were prepared by San Luis Obispo-based Lisa Wise Consulting Inc., in partnership with the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization (MBCFO) and funded by the Central Coast Joint Cable/Fisheries Liaison Committee.

Morro Bay’s steady climb in fishing earnings was part of a statewide trend, the report notes. Commercial fishing earnings in the state nearly doubled between 2007 and 2013, and, significantly, at the same time, this growth overlapped the recent recession/depression, which bottomed in 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. In other words, Morro Bay fishing suffered the same downtown as did practically every business in the U.S. at that time, and is now in full recovery.

Leading economic indicators place the commercial industry in Morro Bay at near-record highs. Landings by weight—the amount of seafood offloaded at the dock—reached almost 6.8 million pounds in 2013, a 33% increase from 2012, and the highest landings by weight since 1993. Earnings at the dock exceeded $7.1 million in 2013, a 9.3% increase from 2012, marking the third year of dock earnings over $6.5 million, and a 275% increase from the 20-year low in 2007.

According to the report, sablefish, Dungeness crab, hagfish, salmon, Market squid and halibut accounted for approximately 80% of the top-10 earning species in 2013. Shortspine thornyheads, Spot prawn, Petrale sole, Dover sole and Gopher rockfish made up the remaining 20% of the top 10 for a total of $6.25 million.

A top-15 port and statewide leader, Morro Bay led California in 2013 in hagfish with 42% of the state total; Aurora rockfish with 58% of state total; Bank rockfish with 68% of state total; and sablefish with 25% of state total.

Falling Price Per Pound

While earnings increased 9.3% and landings 33% from 2012 to 2013, the “Economic Report” notes, “Price per pound has fallen sharply, reflecting Morro Bay’s increasing participation in the Market squid fishery. Price per pound for Market squid in Morro Bay averaged $0.33 per pound in 2013. Morro Bay’s overall average price per pound in 2013 was $1.05, down from $1.27 in 2012.”

By comparison, species much more valuable than Market squid also hit the docks, though in far less volume. For example, the still-strong sablefish fishery (27% of overall dock earnings in 2013) averaged around $2.50 per pound in 2013. Dungeness crab (17% of earnings) registered its highest total in 24 years, nearly doubling 2012 when it averaged upwards of $5.04 per pound. White seabass averaged an all-time high of $4.62 per pound in 2012 (2013 figures unavailable). Chinook salmon (5%), long a key fishery in Morro Bay, averaged $7.54 per pound last year. In 2013, Nearshore species, including Cabezon, Gopher rockfish, Grass rockfish, Brown rockfish, Black and Yellow rockfish, Kelp greenling and Copper rockfish, fetched about $6.79 per pound. California halibut averaged $6.53 per pound. Spot prawn averaged around $13.31 per proud in 2013, making it the most valuable species to hit the dock.

The “Economic Report” commends fishermen’s “ability to adapt” to shifting markets and seize new and emerging opportunities. “Maintaining the upward momentum,” it states, “commercial fishermen met drops in key fisheries such as sablefish with increased landings and earnings of salmon, Market squid and Dungeness crab.”

Fishermen’s Reaction

“The Morro Bay fishing community is doing very well,” says Jeremiah O’Brien, former president and present director of the MBCFO. “Most of the guys are doing well financially because the fish stocks are there. As we see improvements in the landings, as we see improvements in the opportunities, and we see younger guys coming into the business.

“I’m very optimistic about the future,” O’Brien says. “What’s happening now is that the fish stocks are catching up with management efforts. The management has been very heavy for the last 25 years, and what we’re seeing now, finally, is an upswing in all of the fish stocks right across the board, because some of the efforts were necessary, some were not…”

“I don’t see anything currently that would impede the direction the growth has been traveling,” he says about room for future growth. “It’s steadily moving up the (earnings) chart very nicely. I don’t see anything currently that would impede those numbers. At some point, there more than likely would be a leveling off, and I don’t know when that would come.”

What complicates that picture is the Rock Conservation Area stretching from Canada to Mexico that is currently closed. “That area, between 30 and 150 fathoms, is the primary spawning area for all of the Rockcod on the West Coast,” he says. “It’s been closed since 1999. It’s going to have to open one day soon, and there’s already been rumblings and little tests. In fact, some tests were done here locally. When it does open I believe we’re going to see all of those numbers on the (landings and earnings) charts go up considerably.”

O’Brien feels optimistic about the future of the business.

“The markets look good. I believe we’re going to remain healthy for a long time to come,” he says, especially since the local fishing community has always enjoyed the strong support of the community at large, from the Harbor Department to the city councils. The coming and goings of the fishing boats are an integral part of the rhythm of daily life in Morro Bay.

“We need to ensure (the younger fishermen) are going to make a good living and that there’s opportunity in the future,” O’Brien says. “Management is keeping up with the industry and the stocks are looking healthy… as long as management keeps their eye on things and manages properly. We’ve got to make sure that we have fish for the future while ensuring that we are utilizing the stocks available to us properly now. It’s a fine line.”

Mark Tognazinni, a MBCFO director and business owner, says that while “we have had some great successes, all isn’t a glowing bed of coals in Morro Bay fisheries.”

He questions the largely squid-based economy.

“Let’s do the math,” he says. “6.8 million pounds (in landings), but remember 4 million pounds were squid… All out of town boats, less than five or six boats, mostly ran by non-owners selling to out of town markets, and most all that is consumed ends up leaving the U.S. to be processed. Other than the dock and dock workers who unload the squid there is very little economic gain for Morro Bay. The harbor loves it because it artificially inflates our landings and that keeps tax dollars flowing to the harbor. Squid production does little for Morro Bay other than disrupt other fisheries.

“So, in a year we have no squid landings, and there are more of those than not, do we say the landings have collapsed?”

“Fishermen have it better than we did five years ago,” Tognazinni says, “(but) certain doors are closed behind us as far as limited entry and limited access, (and) lots of active fishermen have manipulated the system and have become owners of very valuable permits for free.

“Morro bay fishermen really don’t need help,” he adds, “but we need to have organizations stop hurting us. Give us reasonable access to resources. Allow fishermen, real fishermen to have access without paying $100,000 of dollars to fish. Get rid of limited entry, individual quotas, and anything else that allows large corporations to own fish that should belong to all of us.”

Key indicators point to a similarly prosperous 2014. Landings and earnings at the dock, species mix and trends, price per pound, number of trips and vessels operating in the harbor; demand for offloading, staging, refrigeration/ice, processing, bait, gear storage, a chandlery and other marine services; as well as for retail space, employment generation, and synergies with tourism and other related businesses—all point to the local industry’s overall good health. Morro Bay is expected to build a boatyard/haul-out facility within the next few years, and that should further stimulate new economic activity at the docks, new taxes revenues, and more dollars spent in town.

And the new faces: “In the last three years [ending in 2012],” states the “Sustainability Plan,” “it is estimated that 12 new participants have entered the commercial fishing industry in Morro Bay, attracted by five years of steady economic growth and increased earnings.” Even more have entered the business in the last two years.

The “Economic Impact Report” “is a tool to give a very small snapshot of a blink of an eye in time,” Tognazinni counsels. “Fisheries are cyclic just like farming and other food producing businesses.

“Ride the highs and prepare for the lows.”

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