Morro Bay’s commercial fishing industry,once left for dead 10 years ago,has resurfaced from the deep and is growing again says the 2013 Morro Bay Commercial Fishery report. The annual economics-oriented report published this summer concludes that for the fifth year in a row fish landings are up.Total fish landings increased from 3.4 million pounds in 2011 to over 5 million pounds in 2012,an increase of 67%.The catch is the highest since 1997.(click on chart)
Earnings at the docks generated $6.3 million and 194 jobs. Significantly the increase in business has attracted 17 new or returning fishermen and 12 vessels in the last four years says the study.
Salmon /Crab Lead The Way
So what are they catching? In 2012 there were big jumps in market squid,salmon and dungeness crab. Salmon landings in Morro Bay have been virtually non-existent for 7 years but came roaring back with the improved ocean conditions and a bountiful ocean population in 2012.The species is one of great value per pound for fishermen who got an average of $6.80 per pound.
Dungenese crabs crawled from their hiding places in 2012 with 140,000 pounds caught compared to 5 years of just about nothing. Earnings in 2012 were $600,000. Also the sole catch was at a 14 year high
The bounty works to reverse the common doom and gloom perception in the past decade that the vibrancy of small fishing towns like Morro Bay or Fort Bragg were a fading memory. A 2001 NOAA report quoted a local that frowned that” the commercial fishing culture of Morro Bay is rapidly disappearing.” Indeed in 2000 NOAA says there were some 249 commercial vessels delivering fish landings to Morro Bay with local Bay residents owning 62 commercial vessels.
Gloom & Doom?
There was talk of the collapse of the fisheries off the West Coast with dwindling catches in recent decades spurring new regulations triggered by what was characterized as overfishing.
Morro Bay’s fishery used to be dominated by trawlers that drag nets on the ocean floor. The practice is now out of favor because of environmental damage and assertion it led to over fishing.What is left is highly regulated. Today fishermen use hook and lines as well as traps to catch fish.,The Nature Conservancy group – in an effort to stabilize the industry – bought the trawling fleet of boats.
But there are still some trawl operations as described in a recent city Harbor Commission meeting.
“Mr. Rob Seitz, commercial fisherman, said he runs the 56’ trawl boat the South Bay and is in the West Coast groundfish trawl fishery. He described his gear as a funnel-shaped net that is towed across the ocean bottom at around 2,400’ depth, gathering mostly sole and cod. He said he’s a proud participant of the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program; the City is acquiring a Quota from The Nature Conservancy, which will keep the fishery local. The IFQ requires a federal observer onboard his boat 100% of the time during all fishing trips, which ultimately helps to keep the fishery sustainable. Mr. Seitz also said any gear type can be used in this fishery as long as it has been approved by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council; so hooks or pots, traps or nets are used.
Chair Eckles asked Mr. Seitz to explain the observer requirements. Mr. Seitz said an observer is subcontracted to the federal government; the first year of the program NOAA paid for 90% of the bill but now the percentage is 60-40% which means Mr. Seitz pays around $200 per day. He said the federal observer basically helps prove that the fishery is legitimate and legal. He brings in 15-30,000 pounds of fish each trip; in 2012 he landed about 900,000 pounds of fish that went to local markets and restaurants.”
Back to our annual report ; By the year 2000 landings were on a downslide as can be seen from the above graph.The highest year for landings was 1993 with over 10 million pounds caught, double the year 2012 yield.
On the other hand the 5 million pound fish haul caught in 2012 looks pretty good compared to 2007 that saw barley 1 million pounds.
If Morro Bay’s fishermen are catching more fish the community of Morro Bay is catching a break as well – as the state’s economy boosts travel. The city hotel bed tax reflects a steadily improved local tourism economy in the past few years as can be seen with combined receipts for July/Aug of 2011 at $4.7 million,July/Aug 2012 at $5.1 million and July/Aug of this year recorded at $5.6 million, almost a 20% improvement in a two year span.
Tall Fish Tale?
Sounds like a tall fish tale but the tourists are back just as the fish are coming back.
The uptick in activity dockside has spurred more visitation along the Embarcadero as small processors keep the working atmosphere alive adding jobs and stimulating more tourism and all sorts of fish/wildlife related spinoffs.
Besides commercial fishing – look at the growing for-hire fishing activity, eco-tourism that focus on birdlife based on the rich food habitat here,recreational boating ,whale watching tours, harbor tours,restaurants with a decidedly fish flavor of course,hotels and all manner of retail.Add the residential investments and rentals that help people come to take in the sea air. All this gives the town an atmosphere that keeps the visitors coming back. No wonder there has been a nice increase in hotel bookings in town in the past several years.
More harbor side activities are in the works with infrastructure improvements on the Embarcadero like a new dock at Morro Bay Landing – an operation that offers sport fishing trips and whale watching on a new boat serving the area starting this month.
At the Harbor Commission meeting one local albacore fisherman” Mr. Craig Barbre said the cycle for albacore had been very poor locally in the past 10-15 years, but the numbers have been increasing steadily over the past three years; so the fish seem to be coming back to California. He’d like to see the fishery return here so he can fish from home, but it would require a substantial freezer facility that would make this town more viable to the buyers as a hub for fishing.”
More infrastructure could pay off as well. “Mr. Barbre said his second fishery is salmon, which he was able to fish locally for the first month and a half, and this has been the best salmon season since he began fishing, having 100-fish days and the price never falling. He said the ocean is the healthiest he’s seen in years including giant balls of krill and baitfish. He described the dock for direct sales of fish to the public at Half Moon Bay, which is highly successful. He recommended that Morro Bay install a haulout facility, along with the freezer facility, and a direct-to-public fish sales dock, all of which would mean a boost for the local economy.”
Besides the commercial fishing industry Morro Bay sports two oyster farms who raise the shellfish in cages in the bay .One firm – Morro Bay Oyster Co has a retail store. California’s ‘shellfish industry generates around $25 million with Morro Bay ranked third on state production behind Humboldt and Tomales Bay.
Again the latest Harbor Commission comes a first hand account of the revival. ”Mr. Tom Roff, commercial fisherman for over 40 years, thanked the community for the wonderful support of the fishing industry. He said his 35-ton vessel is the Diane Susan, and he’s in the drift/gillnet fishery.
Mr. Roff said all the Morro Bay fisheries are highly regulated and sustainable, and a vital industry here in Morro Bay. In 2012 the local fishing industry, which includes 90 active vessels, landed over 5 million pounds of fish in Morro Bay for a $6.3 million dollar gross, which includes Dungeness crab, swordfish, albacore, squid, and king salmon just to name a few.
Mr. Roff described his drift/gillnet fishery and the strict regulations which began with the Marine Mammal Protection Act. He described his gear which includes 60 “pingers” that create an acoustic wall of sound to ward off marine mammals. He fishes 100 miles off the coast for swordfish, bluefin tuna, albacore, opah, thresher shark, among others, and that Morro Bay is the third largest swordfish landing on the West Coast.”
The Harbor Commission heard calls for more infrastructure improvements.