March 23, 2005

3/23 - Whaaa? If California fish resources are so bad, how can they be setting tuna catch records?

This is why the public has such a hard time figuring out the real story of ocean conservation. On the one hand we're implementing the Marine Life Protection Act because things are so bad, but on the other, the LA Times announces today that San Diego sport fishermen are catching record numbers of tuna. Yes, we know the scientific fine points here, but when it comes to communicating to the public, they're not interested in the details, only the headlines. From the article:

Fifteen tuna exceed 200 pounds, a trophy-class fish. In an extraordinary season, San Diego-based long-range boats, making runs hundreds of miles to waters off the Mexico coast, have averaged a dozen such yellowfin per trip. The Excel returned to Point Loma with a record 41 big ones in December.


Come and get 'em: Record numbers of yellowfin tuna.

Posted by Randy Olson at March 23, 2005 04:16 PM

Regarding the record catches of tuna...

These boats are going pretty far south, and are in Califronia waters in only the old sense of the word, certainly not in US waters.

They are a story in shifting baselines themselves.

There used to be tuna and other large gamefish in the waters around Catalina island, but commercial pressure on them and on the baitfish they eat has pretty much ended that. So you used to be able to catch these fish off catalna - no kidding - and now you have to spend $5k and go to clipperton atol. Shifting baseline, anyone?

So the article almost makes the opposite point your title makes, and is also an example of why shallow land-based MPAs aren't the complete answer.

The sport albacore fishery in california has rebounded pretty well, starting at about the same time driftnets were pushed out.

These long range sport fishermen were pushed out of the revillagigedos islands, to their regret. They felt, to some extent, that they helped patrol the islands. They are looking for and finding new waters, new offshore banks, and that is probably the main reason for the increase in large fish, they are finding new schools.

It's also worth noting what these guys pay for trips. They put a value on the fishery that the commercials don't, they help limit the commercials and longliners out. A monetary value like that on a resource can help save it.

anyway, been reading your site for a while. I fish and scuba dive, like MPAs, agree with most of what you say, but felt like putting in 2 cents on this one.

Posted by: Roger Carlson at March 24, 2005 01:19 AM

Excellent comment. Thanks. Sometimes I put an annoying heading on a post to prompt exactly this sort of reply. I pretty much suspected this -- the article even mentioned the record catches were also a function of abnormal water circulation patterns. But as you mention, the $5K price tag also is a clear illustration.

Posted by: Randy Olson at March 24, 2005 04:26 AM