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Fishing with a Mission: Collaborating to Monitor California's Marine Protected Areas Erin Lourya a Moss Landing Marine Labs, Moss Landing, California, USA Online publication date: 30 March 2011

To cite this Article Loury, Erin(2011) 'Fishing with a Mission: Collaborating to Monitor California's Marine Protected

Areas', Fisheries, 36: 3, 141 — 142 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.080/03632415.2011.10389089 URL:

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Student Angle Fishing with a Mission: Collaborating to Monitor California’s Marine Protected Areas Erin Loury M.S. student, Moss Landing Marine Labs, Moss Landing, California 95039, USA

“Fish on!” “Fish on!” “Fish on!”

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Twelve anglers stationed around the railing of a party boat are reeling in one fish after another, dropping them into tubs of water, and yelling out a chorus to alert us, the waiting science team. Clad in boots and bright foul-weather gear, we scurry in laps around the boat, trying to match their pace, shuttling fish to the tagging station at the boat’s stern. One scientist measures and tags each fish with an external dart tag, while yelling out stats with the terse bark of a head surgeon: “Blue rockfish, 26 centimeters, tag number 10165, good condition!” A data recorder jots it all down with lightening speed before we release the fish over the boat railing and turn to the next one. It’s all part of the drill in fishing surveys run by the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP). We conducted these fishing surveys to characterize fish populations inside and outside of new marine protected areas (MPAs) in central California. MPAs function in the ocean in much the same way that state and national parks do on land— as refuges that protect diverse habitats and wildlife within their borders from the impacts of human activity. As part of the Marine Life Protection Act of 1999, California is currently implementing a network of MPAs to span its entire coast. The first section of this network was established in 2007 in the Monterey region of California, from Pigeon Point to Point Conception.

Volunteer anglers catch fish during a survey of the Point Lobos State Marine Reserve (Photo credit: Erin Loury/CCFRP).

MLML student Erin Loury holds a tagged gopher rockfish at Point Lobos State Marine Reserve (Photo credit: Cassandra Brooks/CCFRP).

Scientists at Moss Landing Marine Labs and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo have worked through the CCFRP to conduct baseline surveys from 2007 to 2010 inside and outside of four MPAs in central California. The unique nature of these collaborative studies allows us to work closely with recreational fishermen, who represent major stakeholders in the MPA creation process. The CCFRP charters party boats from local ports to conduct the surveys, and recreational anglers volunteer to catch the majority of our fish. Though they can’t keep the fish they catch, most are very enthusiastic about directly collecting valuable data. Plus, participating in our rigorous scientific protocol allows these anglers the chance to fish in areas off limits to everyone else—areas such as the Point Lobos State Marine Reserve. With a majestic rocky shoreline edged with gnarled Monterey pine and cypress and blue waters thick with thriving kelp forests, Point Lobos is considered the “crown jewel” of California’s MPAs. First closed to fishing in 1973, its boundaries were expanded in 2007. Fishing in this long-protected area allows anglers to experience the effects of MPAs first hand. Frenzied scenes like the one described above take place in the Point Lobos MPA more often than anywhere else—here we catch more fish, and often bigger ones, too. Being a scientist aboard these surveys is exhilarating. The 6 a.m. departures and days of wind and swell are offset by days when the sun is shining and the fish are biting. The fish will stab too, if we’re not careful. Rockfishes, our primary catch, wield a fierce array of spines—despite the gloves we wear, a good spine jab makes for one stiff and throbbing hand. The fish

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themselves are a riot of colors: rockfish in hues of blue, black, or scarlet; bright orange kelp greenling with blue spots; cabezon in every shade imaginable. Excitement always ensues when someone catches a lingcod, and we run to net the writhing flash of long tail, green belly, and sharp teeth! Friendly competition abounds as the anglers try to outdo each other in reeling in the most fish. Calculating the number of fish caught in the time each angler spends fishing gives us a measure of fish abundance, or catch per unit effort. While most fish are tagged and released, the journey ends on deck for a chosen few.

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MLML student Jahnava Duryea inspects the tag number of a cabezon ready to be released (Photo credit: Erin Loury/CCFRP).

These, the gopher rockfish, become specimens for my research. I am studying their stomach contents to see whether their feeding differs inside and outside of the MPAs, as well as among geographic regions and years. These collaborative fishing efforts build important relationships between scientists and fishermen and provide valuable baseline data, both of which are essential to the MPA process. And if listening to the anglers while steaming back to port is any indication, they also make for plenty of good fishing stories.


Marine Life Protection Act, Cal. Assembly Bill 993, Chapter 1015. 1999. Codified at California Fish & Game Code Sections 2850– 2863.

A volunteer angler during a survey of the Point Lobos State Marine Reserve (Photo credit: Erin Loury/CCRP).

A tagged kelp greenling on a measuring board, ready to be released (Photo credit: Erin Loury/CCFRP).


Volunteer anglers catch fish during a survey of Año Nuevo State Marine Conservation Area (Photo credit: Erin Loury/CCFRP).

Fisheries • vol 36 no 3 • march 2011 •

Fishing with a Mission: Collaborating to Monitor California's MarineProtected Areas  

Former Moss Landing Marine Laboratories graduate student Erin Loury discusses how collaborative fishing efforts build important relationship...