Morro Bay is Getting National Attention for its Effort to Rescue the Local Fishing Industry


The Morro Bay waterfront is getting national attention for a unique plan to bring back the local fishing industry.  It's called the Quota Fund, and it's bringing together scientists, fishermen, and civic leaders to work on viable solutions to help strengthen the port's fishing industry.

KCBX News Director Randol White speaks with the Quota Fund's Executive Director Andrea Lueker, and Rick Algert, who helped organize the effort and now serves as the fund's secretary and treasurer. 

Local Leaders Restoring Fishing Economy and Ocean Health


Posted by The Nature Conservancy in Ocean Views on July 10, 2014

By: Michael Bell, Oceans Program Director, The Nature Conservancy in California

The best way to protect our oceans is by empowering local communities and fishermen that have the most to gain from sustainable fisheries.  The Nature Conservancy and its partners have tested this theory by partnering with local fishing communities to take charge of the waters they fish, above and beyond the traditional top down management.

For centuries we believed the world’s oceans held a bountiful and endless supply of seafood. Many early fisheries management laws in the U.S. focused on growing the fishing industry. After great growth of the American fishing fleet through the late 70’s to the early 90’s, scientists presented compelling evidence that we were overfishing many fish stocks to the point that recovery was not certain.

In response, fishery managers implemented rules and regulations to reduce overfishing, but that often fostered conflict and minimized the importance of role of local fishery stakeholders in stewarding the waters they fish.

Fisheries management is an incredibly complex job requiring a balance between protecting marine resources and sustaining the real needs of fishermen, fishing businesses and communities.  Achieving productive fisheries, healthy ocean ecosystems and resilient fishing communities simply can’t be the job of government alone – it is the job of everyone engaged with the health of our ocean.

In 2006 The Nature Conservancy, fishermen and community leaders began working together in Morro Bay to help rebuild the collapsed groundfish fishery. Our partnership promoted the use of new technologies and tools to reduce bycatch and protect important ocean habitat. These new approaches are developed with and implemented by local fishermen. The collaborative nature of this effort was a far cry from the regulatory world many fishermen have come to resent. The structure of our partnership incentivized fishermen to share catch information (normally considered secrets of their trade) with each other and scientists, as well as implement studies to assess trawl impacts and minimize bycatch. Fishermen helped discern what this data was telling us about local groundfish stocks and what local harvest measures were needed in response.

This bottom up reform can also be more inclusive and flexible in nature.  Take trawling for instance, consistently vilified but currently the only way to catch many valuable flatfish species, such as petrale sole and sand dabs.  Research has shown that the severity of impact of trawling depends on the type of seafloor and the intensity of fishing effort.  Fishermen worked hand in hand with scientists as part of our partnership to zone trawling to less vulnerable sand and mud seafloor bottom areas in ways that supported fishermen’s bottom lines without harming sensitive habitat. The result has been less bycatch (fish discarded at sea), more habitat protected, but more importantly, a fundamental paradigm shift in local fishery management.

In Morro Bay, local stakeholders consider themselves the primary stewards of the resource upon which they and their community depend.  To build on this momentum, The Nature Conservancy helped secure permanent local access to fishing and greater economic viability for this small port by transferring $2 million of fishing rights that we owned to the community.  The rights (called fishing quota) were transferred to the Morro Bay Community Quota Fund, a non-profit that is managed by community leaders, scientists and economists committed to advancing an economically stable and environmentally sustainable fishery. The Fund will annually lease rights to local fishermen who commit to helping achieve these goals.

The concept of local leaders playing a primary role in fishery management is taking hold. Throughout the country, there are several other inspiring examples of fishing and community leaders working together to develop solutions to local challenges. In Morro Bay and beyond, elevating the role of local fishery leaders is breaking down barriers that long impeded change and innovation. This natural leadership role of fishery stakeholders is essential.  The future of our world’s oceans and fisheries will not depend on regulations alone, but on our ability to empower local leaders to be part of the solution in stewarding the ocean that supports their livelihoods, heritage and cultural identity.

Morro Bay Group Makes Move to Help Mend Fisheries



Instead of The Nature Conservancy, local nonprofit will manage city’s commercial fishing quota and permits.

The Nature Conservancy has transferred its Central Coast commercial fishing quotas to a Morro Bay nonprofit group.

The Morro Bay Community Quota Fund will now manage the city’s fishing quota and five fishing permits and lease them to local fishermen. The transfer marks the latest development in an effort to rebuild Morro Bay’s fishing industry after the West Coast’s fisheries collapsed a decade ago.

The goal of the fund is to manage Morro Bay’s historic commercial fishing industry in a sustainable way and protect the town’s fishing businesses and working waterfront, said Andrea Lueker, the city’s former manager and now executive director of the fund.

“With the fund in place, the community has a direct stake in maintaining access to healthy groundfish stocks and can work to improve economic and environmental performance in the fishery for existing and incoming fishermen,” Lueker said.

The Morro Bay Community Quota Fund was formed as a local organization to manage the quotas and permits and will be governed by a board of directors consisting of commercial fishermen, community leaders and fisheries scientists. They will lease the
fishing permits to local fishermen who apply for the permits and show the ability to fish in a way that protects the environment and Morro Bay’s economy.

The Nature Conservancy bought out Morro Bay’s entire trawl fishing industry in 2006 from fishermen who were anxious to get out of a fishery that had collapsed and been declared a disaster in 2000.

Starting in 2011, groundfish trawl permits were switched to a catch-share system in which percentages of the allowable catch or quotas are allocated to individual fishermen. Before that, fishing was open to all licensed fishermen during seasons and subject to various gear and take restrictions.

The conservancy bought out the quotas and permits now valued at $2 million in an effort to rebuild Morro Bay’s fishing industry in a more environmentally sustainable model and prevent catches from being consolidated into a handful of larger boats and ports.

This effort included experimenting with new gear designs that minimize environmental damage such as bycatch, which is the catching and killing of non-targeted fish species.

“We’ve found that the biggest way to effect change for the things we care about — fish species and ocean habitats — is to empower the local communities who have the most at stake,” said Michael Bell, director of The Nature Conservancy’s California Coastal and Marine Program. “It’s a trend starting in Morro Bay and rapidly spreading up and down the Pacific Coast, and it just might be the way to save fisheries everywhere.”

Several other ports, such as Monterey and Fort Bragg, are developing their own quota funds using Morro Bay’s model.

Read more here:

Annual Report to Congress on the Status of U.S. Fisheries


Status of Stocks 2012

The 2012 Annual Report on the Status of U.S. Fisheries highlights the progress that collectively, NOAA Fisheries, the regional fishery management councils, and our stakeholders have made to end overfishing and rebuild stocks. The report documents additional progress towards long-term economic sustainability of our  nation’s fisheries. Recent economic data illustrates that the overall seafood industry and recreational fishing continue to generate significant sales impacts and income impacts while also supporting jobs.

About the Report

This annual report provides a ‘snapshot’ in time of the status of U.S. fisheries at the end of 2012.

Highlighting Continued Success

In 2012, as a result of the science-based management of U.S. fisheries, the status of our nation’s marine fish stocks continues to improve. In general, in 2012 we increased the overall percentage of stocks not listed on the overfishing or overfished lists:

  • Ten stocks were removed from the overfishing list.
  • Four stocks were removed from the overfished list.

In addition, six stocks were declared rebuilt in 2012—bringing the total number of rebuilt stocks to 32 since 2000. The graphic below illustrates the improvements made in 2012.


Looking Ahead

Looking to the future, it’s important to remember that sustainability is a process, rather than an end point. This report illustrates that fishery management under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is working to address past overfishing and scientifically assess the status of stocks. 2012 represents the first year that all federal fisheries operated under annual
catch limits designed to end and prevent overfishing. In the future, we expect the number of stocks on the overfishing list—now at an all-time low—to decrease further as a result of management under annual catch limits. 

To build on our success, we need to ensure the timely collection of data, develop more robust and frequent stock assessments, better assess the economic consequences of management actions, and improve understandingof environmental factors, including climate change, that impact fishery resources. 

Overfishing—A stock with a fishing mortality (harvest) rate too high to produce its maximum sustainable yield (MSY)—the largest long-term average catch that can be taken from a stock under prevailing environmental and fishery conditions. The target level of stock abundance is the population that can produce MSY.

Overfished—A stock with a biomass level depleted to a degree that the stock’s capacity to produce MSY is jeopardized.