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A. Management and authority over commercial fishing

California fisheries management is complex and distributed across several agencies with overlapping jurisdictions. Fisheries data collection, organization, and access varies among responsible agencies. Statistical areas used in compilation and interpretation of catch and biological data differ between state and federal efforts, among federally managed fisheries groups, and among state studies. No fisheries data sets have been organized around MBNMS geographical boundaries.

Under the Magnuson Fishery and Conservation Act of 1976, fisheries from three miles offshore to 200 miles offshore are subject to federal jurisdiction and management. The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) is one of eight regional councils created by the Magnuson Act to manage fisheries in US waters; the PFMC has developed fishery management plans for salmon (including chinook, coho, and pink salmon), groundfish (83 species including some rockfish), anchovy, and coastal pelagics. Management authority of other species under state jurisdiction.

The state retains authority over fishing within three miles from shore, as well as certain offshore fisheries. The state legislature retains ultimate authority over these fisheries. The legislature and the Fish and Game Commission set fisheries policy, which is interpreted and implemented by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG). CDFG also recommends changes in policy to the Legislature and Fish and Game Commission (Fish and Game Code 1995, State Lands Commission 1994, C. Haugen pers. comm., J. Spratt pers. comm., R. Starr pers. comm.).

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary retains no authority over fishing activities; according to the final management plan for MBNMS, "Fisheries management will remain under the existing jurisdiction of the State of California, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Pacific Fishery Management Council." (NOAA 1992).

B. Major gear types used and major species caught

icon icon Commercial fisheries in MBNMS include a hook-and-line troll fishery for salmon and tuna; a trawl fishery for rockfish and flatfish; a long-line fishery for rockfish; a gill- and trammel net fishery for halibut, rockfish, and croaker; a drift gillnet fishery for swordfish and shark; a roundhaul and lampara net fishery for squid, anchovy, herring, mackerel and sardine; and a trap fishery for prawn, dungeness crab and rock crab (C. Haugen pers. comm., J. Spratt pers. comm.). In 1987, there were approximately 6-15 gill net boats, 8 trawlers, and one to three trap boats fishing commercially in the Monterey Bay area (NOAA 1992). It is difficult to get an accurate count of boats in MBNMS; reporting is irregular and fishing patterns change. However, some broad geographical patterns are documented (Figure 5 and Figure 6). Seasonal and quota regulations are in place for some stocks and are described in the Fish and Game Code of regulations (CDFG 1995a).

A wide variety of species are caught in the commercial fishery (Table 2; CDFG unpublished data), with little variation in composition from year to year (R. Starr pers. comm.). Important species caught in MBNMS in terms of landings and dollar value fluctuate depending on availability, abundance, effort and market conditions. Since 1989, squid, rockfish, mackerel, anchovy, salmon, swordfish, and sablefish have been the most important species in terms of pounds landed and dollar value at Monterey, Santa Cruz, Pillar Point, and Moss Landing ports (CDFG 1989-1994).

C. Landings and trends in landings

Commercial fishing accounts for most fishes caught in MBNMS and throughout California. According to CDFG, from 1981-1986 commercial fishing accounted for 92% of total landings of all fishes except salmon, in northern and central California (Karpov et al. 1995). Commercial fishing has accounted for an average of 86% of the salmon catch in all of California from the 1950's through 1990 (Leet et al. 1992).

It is difficult to assess trends in commercial fisheries landings in the MBNMS, as data are not collected according to MBNMS boundaries. Boats originating from ports outside of MBNMS (San Francisco, Morro Bay) as well as within MBNMS (Pillar Point, Moss Landing, Santa Cruz, Monterey) all take fish within and outside MBNMS boundaries. This confounds estimates of pounds of MBNMS fish landed. Estimates of the proportion of fish taken from the MBNMS by boats unloading at Morro Bay and San Francisco ports are weakened by unreliable reporting, and some data from Morro Bay ports are not readily available. However, most of the catch from Monterey Bay ports is from MBNMS waters (J. Spratt pers. comm.). In addition to uncertainties surrounding the origin of reported catches, enforcement reports indicate that "landings of federally regulated groundfish, harvested by the non-trawl fleet, have been grossly under-reported to the Department of Fish and Game" (Torquemada 1994).

icon California Department of Fish and Game data show that landings at Monterey Bay ports, including Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Moss Landing harbors, tend to account for between 5 and10% of the total California catch (Figure 7; and note 1995 data recently released for Monterey Bay ports shows 12.9 million pounds landed at a value of $33 million dollars; J. Spratt pers. comm.). Monterey Bay port landings decreased in pounds and held steady in dollar value between 1980-1994. This dichotomy may reflect an increase in the proportion of high value catch; for example, catch decreased 15% in 1993 relative to 1992, yet total value of the catch increased 20%, due to higher market prices for squid and higher landings of tuna and salmon (CDFG 1989-1994). Both volume and dollar value of landings have increased at Pillar Point Harbor (CDFG 1989-1994).

D. Trends in gear types, trends in major species caught in MBNMS

Improved fishing gear and fish finding technologies have extended fishing depths and ranges, and permitted fish concentrations to be more easily located (Davis 1989, Safina 1995). An increase in the number of commercial nearshore hook-and-line fisheries occurred following the restriction of the local gillnet fishery in 1991. For rockfish, the contribution of hook-and-line caught fish to the overall catch in reported in Monterey Bay ports increased from 4% in 1987 to 24% in 1993 (CDFG unpublished data).

Chinook salmon supports one of the most lucrative of commercial and recreational fisheries, and is consistently among the three most valuable groups in the state's commercial fishery (Karpov et al. 1995). Declining wild chinook stocks are supplemented by in-stream hatchery production throughout Pacific coastal rivers and streams. Hatchery production is suspected to be reducing the genetic diversity of Pacific salmon (CDFG 1988).

Many salmon runs in California have declined dramatically since the turn of the century (see Anadromous Fishes section). Current runs are apparently a fraction of the historically abundant salmon runs in coastal streams and river systems of the Sacramento/San Joaquin system, the Salinas and Pajaro Rivers, and other rivers and streams throughout coastal areas (Gordon 1977, CDFG 1988). Reductions in abundances of many salmon groups, such as the federally threatened Sacramento River winter-run chinook in California have been attributed largely to loss and degradation of upstream habitat due to dams, water diversions, timber operations, gravel mining, and development (CDFG 1988, Leet et al. 1992).

An ocean fishery for salmon began in Monterey Bay in the 1880's with hand-held troll lines. Seasonal and bag limits were established in the early part of the century and quotas were established with passage of the Magnuson Act. In 1980, a moratorium was placed on new permits, and in 1983 a limited-entry rule capped the the California fishery at 4600 vessels. By 1991 the fleet had declined to 3200 vessels (Leet et al. 1992).

The California commercial salmon catch has exhibited a widely fluctuating, generally declining trend, from a high of about 13 million pounds caught in 1913 to less than 4 million pounds in 1991. Close to 15 million pounds were caught in 1988 before dropping precipitously to the 1991 level (Leet et al. 1992). More than 6 million pounds were landed in 1995, representing the best catch since at least 1988 (A. Grover pers. comm.). From 1988 to 1995, the commercial salmon catch at Monterey Bay ports (Monterey, Moss Landing, and Santa Cruz) varied from 1.8 million pounds (in 1988) to 680,000 pounds (1993) to 2.4 million pounds (1995; J. Spratt pers. comm.). Salmon remained among the top three most valuable species groups landed during those years.

Rockfish were consistently among the three most valuable market groups landed at Monterey Bay ports from 1990 through 1993 (CDFG 1991-1994) and were the second most valuable market group in the state in 1992 (State Resources Agency 1995). Commercial landings in northern and central California (from Humboldt through San Luis Obispo counties) rose about 184% between the time periods of 1958-61 and 1981-1986 (Karpov et al. 1995).

Squid increased moderately in landings and dramatically in dollar value at Monterey Bay ports between 1979 and 1993, and were the most valuable species for these ports in 1993 and 1994 (CDFG 1989-1994). Landings increased significantly during 1994-1996 (R. Starr pers. comm.). Nationwide, the dock price for squid (including several species) has increased from about $.15 per pound to $1.00 per pound since 1985 (Russell 1995). In California, dock prices for Pacific market squid have remained steady at $.12-.15 per pound during this period (J. Spratt pers. comm.)

E. Impact of commercial and recreational fisheries

Assessing the impact of fisheries on fish populations and community structure is a complex undertaking confounded by changes in fishing effort and methods, short or intermittent study time frames, sampling biases such as non-random boat selection, and natural interannual variation in abundance of fish (Pacific Fishery Management Council 1994). For example, the El Niño events of 1957-1959 and 1982-1993 were correlated with significant, probably natural shifts in location and abundance of many species (Karpov et al.1995, Parrish et al. 1981).

Attempts at evaluating the impact of fishing are currently made using a variety of indices described below. Such indices suggest that groundfish including rockfish and lingcod in MBNMS have been impacted by regional fishing effort. Non-target species may also be impacted but have not been studied; resource monitoring agencies such as CDFG and the Pacific Fishery Management Council focus their limited budgets and staff on commercially valuable, high profile species such as salmon and certain groundfishes.

1. Groundfish

A growing body of evidence indicates that fishing activity is negatively impacting groundfish abundance and population structure in the vicinity of MBNMS (Lea et al.1993, Karpov et al.1995, Pacific Fishery Management Council 1994). Historical comparisons of catch statistics in northern and central California (Humboldt to San Luis Obispo counties) between 1958-1961 and 1981-1986 show average weight per fish declined for 12 of 16 major rockfish species, including bocaccio, canary, vermilion, chilipepper, greenstriped, widow, starry, blue, black, brown, gopher, and olive rockfishes. Since 1982 the central California blue rockfish catch showed a dramatic 88% decline from 500 metric tons in 1982 to 60 metric tons in 1986, and a large proportion of sexually immature fish were found in the catch. Yellowtail rockfish exhibited a signficant decline in mean length, and by 1986 most fish taken were sexually immature. Canary rockfish declined in length and weight per fish between the surveys. Brown rockfish weights declined 49%, and most of the catch between 1980-1986 was sexually immature (Karpov et al. 1995).

Studies of the central coast (San Francisco to San Luis Obispo counties) recreational catch from the late 1980's onward led CDFG to comment that "indicators such as reduced catch-per-unit-effort, a reduction in size for certain species, catches made up mostly of juveniles, and changes in species composition have all been noted" for chilipepper, black, brown, canary, vermilion, yelloweye, olive, and widow rockfishes. "Some species, such as the large red rockfishes (copper, yelloweye, and vermilion) are essentially disappearing from certain areas, especially near coastal urban centers. It is our considered opinion that unless protective measures of some sort are instituted, continued heavy utilization will have a detrimental impact on population structure." (Lea et al. 1993).

The Pacific Fishery Management Council reports declining trends in up to half of the rockfish species managed by the Council. Boccacio and Canary rockfish are below the desired population levels for sustainable yield, and declining trends in abundance are noted for bocaccio, canary, yellowtail, thornyhead, and a group of other rockfish species collectively managed as the Sebastes complex. Bank, black, boccacio, canary, darkblotched, and thornyhead rockfish have shown substantial declines in length and catch-per-unit-effort. The Council has commented that "examination of declines in mean length for several rockfish species in these areas suggests that the fishery is having a noticeable impact on the stock." (Pacific Fishery Management Council 1994).

Anecdotal evidence suggesting local rockfish declines includes observations by biologists who have dived for many years in the MBNMS, e.g. that "rockfish abundance has plummeted in Monterey Bay, especially at Chase Reef (in Monterey Bay) and Pinnacles Reef (in Carmel Bay)," (D. Gotshall pers. comm.) and "there are fewer and fewer adult fish in the kelp forests of Carmel Bay, Cannery Row in Monterey, and off of Pacific Grove." (S. Webster pers. comm.).

2. Sardine, abalone and squid

The sardine population fished in the Monterey Bay area has still not recovered to pre-1940's levels following a crash in the 1940's and 1950's. Estimated spawning biomass dropped from a high of over 3 million tons in the 1930's to a low of 5,000 tons in the 1970's. The decline has been attributed to a combination of fishing pressure and environmental factors. Spawning biomass has been increasing slowly and irregularly since 1984. Sardine fisheries have since been subject to a variety of regulations intended to restore populations. Currently a small directed fishery is permitted. A quota of 2000 tons was set in the 1980's (Leet et al.1992) and was increased to 52,000 tons in 1995 (CDFG 1995b).The quota was set at 35,000 tons in 1996, reflecting a change in population estimate methods (J. Spratt pers. comm.) Monterey Bay ports continue to land sardines on a regular basis (CDFG 1989-1994).

Abalone landings for all five species of commercially harvested abalone have declined dramatically in California, from a high of about 5.2 million pounds harvested in the 1950's to 300,000 pounds harvested in 1991. This decline has been attributed to a combination of factors, including more effective harvesting techniques in the commercial fishery, growth in the sport fishery, increased market demand, sea otter population increases and range expansions, coastal pollution, and El Niño events. Until 1960, the Monterey Bay area was the center of abalone fisheries. Today, there is a limited commercial abalone fishery in MBNMS, and a sport fishery consisting of diving and shore take, regulated by the California Department of Fish and Game. Most commercial and sport fishing for abalone takes place outside MBNMS boundaries (Leet et al.1992).

Nationally, squid (Loligo spp.) are increasingly targeted as other stocks decline and consumer demand and market value increase. Most species of squid are important components of the marine food chain as predators and prey, are short-lived and highly fecund (Leet et al. 1992). The Atlantic Loligo fishery is thought to be at carrying capacity or over-exploited (Russell 1995), and in response the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council is drafting a squid management plan.

Monterey Bay is a prime Pacific fishing ground for market squid. In California, the catch has risen dramatically; from 20 million pounds taken in the early 1970's to 150 million pounds taken in the late 1995 (J. Spratt pers. comm.). Monterey Bay area ports and Pillar Point together have taken about 15 million pounds in the last several years. Monterey Bay catch jumped to over 30 million pounds in 1994, then declined to 5.7 million pounds in 1995 (CDFG 1989-1994; J. Spratt pers. comm.). Squid biomass has not been determined or even estimated, precluding correlation of catch levels to population abundance.

3. Impacts

Despite their significance, the potential impacts of fisheries on MBNMS are poorly understood and remain a major research and management concern.

Removal of squid and other abundant species with complex food chain interactions and/or a large prey base may have a profound influence on the marine communities and ecosystems of MBNMS. Studies elsewhere have shown that such removals have a severe impact on the composition and abundance of other species in these habitats and to ecosystem function (e.g. Backus and Bourne 1987, Evans 1983).

In MBNMS, currently or historically heavily fished species such as salmon, sardine, lingcod, rockfish and squid serve as both predators and prey in food chains. For example, rockfish prey upon rockfish, other fish, jellyfish, crustaceans, mollusks, starfish, and kelp, and are eaten by fish, seabirds, and marine mammals (Lea et al. 1993). No published reports were found on impacts on the ecology of MBNMS as a result of removal of commercial or sport fishes, although investigations have been initiated.

Fishing can also impact marine communities through physical alteration of habitat, particularly through trawling. Trawling occurs year-round and across a large geographic area in MBNMS. Trawling has been shown to cause severe disruptions in benthic communities, including an increase in the abundance of opportunistic species at the expense of climax community species (Reise 1982, deGroot 1984, Pearson et al 1985); reductions in the abundance of benthic organisms (Thompson 1993); and introduction of suspended sediment into the water column (Norse 1993).

Recent preliminary data comparing lightly trawled versus heavily trawled areas within the MBNMS have shown significant differences in physical and biological characteristics between the areas. Heavily trawled areas exhibited 25% fewer polychaete species, and 70% more oligochete species, suggesting that some fish prey species may be enhanced with heavy trawling. Rockfishes, flatfishes, and most large invertebrate epifauna were more abundant in the lightly trawled areas (Engel 1995).

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Reviewed: September 08, 2023
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