Central Coast Groundfish Project

The Central Coast Groundfish Project (CCGP) is an innovative endeavor being spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  The goal of the CCGP is to establish a community-based fishing institution that can provide for the long-term ecological and economic sustainability of the Central Coast groundfish fishery.  OPC funds have been used to develop and implement aspects of the project which evaluate and demonstrate the effectiveness of different harvesting techniques and ways of organizing fishing effort to achieve the goals of ecological and economic sustainability.

Council Documents/Staff Recomendations
Staff Recommendation for the Central Coast Groundfish Project: Conserving a Working Seascape Project (September 10-11, 2008)

Staff Recommendation for the Central Coast Groundfish Project Trawl Impact and Recovery Study (November 29, 2010)

In 2005, TNC partnered with regulatory agencies and trawl fishermen in Central Coast communities to create a program aimed at developing new and sustainable approaches to the Central Coast groundfish fishery in California.  Jointly, these groups petitioned the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) for 3.8 million acres of important marine habitats (Essential Fish Habitat, “EFH”) that would be off limits to bottom trawl gear. Simultaneously, to reduce bottom trawl fishing effort and to mitigate the economic impact of bottom trawl closures, TNC purchased federal permits and vessels from local fishermen interested in leaving the trawl groundfish industry.

Building on the purchase of the federal groundfish trawl permits, TNC began leasing its permits back to local fisherman. As part of these leases, TNC has been evaluating the benefits of using more selective gear (hook & line and traps) and shared harvest caps using protocols approved by federal regulators.  These experiments are being conducted with local fishermen as a test for community-based fisheries management.

The prospect of the transition to an Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ or Rationalization) has raised concern among the fishing community for a potential loss of the fishing heritage of the region.  Fishermen in this remote area may sell or move their permits to more viable trawl ports. This management shift offers an opportunity to design an approach to mitigate these potential impacts by transitioning its permits and associated quota share to a new fishing entity. This entity would anchor access in Central Coast Communities; convert from trawl to lower volume, higher value, and more sustainable fishing practices; promote local stewardship and co-management; and provide California consumers with access to sustainably harvested fish.

Project Details

The grant from the OPC is being used to fund the following three components of the CCGP:

1. Community Based Fishing Association/Exempted Fishing Permit – The Community-Based Fishing Association (CBFA) is a demonstration project operating under regulatory approvals by the PFMC and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in which up to six TNC-owned trawl permits will be transitioned to more selective, hook-and-line and trap methods used by participating fishermen, who will also cooperatively harvest a pooled catch limit.  This project will demonstrate the feasibility of transitioning local trawl effort to alternative gear types and establishing shared community goals for harvest and sale of fish. TNC is working with its fishing and community partners and experts in the Central Coast to design and eventually establish a CBFA, an institution that can hold and manage fishery assets (permits and quota) and incorporate conservation, community, and business goals into its business decision making.  Important to the CCGP vision is market demand for premium quality, locally harvested, and sustainably caught seafood.

TNC has secured final approval for the Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs) necessary to implement this demonstration project in 2009 and 2010.  A harvest plan to guide fishing effort during the course of the project has been developed for the EFP.

2. Conservation Fishing Agreements – The Conservation Fishing Agreements are part of a demonstration project in which TNC-owned trawl permits are used by fishermen subject to a private trawl lease agreement that incorporates specific conservation terms into the contract.  The purpose is to evaluate the feasibility of improving trawling practices to reduce bycatch and habitat damage.

3. Central Coast Trawl Impact Study – TNC worked with key partners to implement the first year of a five-year study to assess the impacts of groundfish trawling on soft-bottom habitats and the amount of time it takes for seafloor habitats to recover from trawling effort.  The first year of the research project is focused on baseline data collection (pre-trawling), implementation of directed trawling treatments, and post-trawling data collection at a study site on the continental shelf off of Morro Bay, California.  OPC support has been used to conduct the first year of surveys and directed trawling effort.


Fishery Bulletin: Ecological Effects Of Bottom Trawling On Fish Habitat Along The Central California Outer Continental Shelf (Lindholm et al.)

The partnership generated from the Central Coast Groundfish Project will help inform future management decisions and may clear the path for similar partnerships and innovations in the larger West Coast groundfish fishery and beyond.

The Nature Conservancy Contact
Michael Bell


Bridget Besaw

Categories: Aquaculture, Sustainable Fisheries and Marine Ecosystems