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Uncertain Fishing Season Ahead For San Diego-Based Boats

Evening Edition

— Captain Buzz Brizendine gently applies varnish to the mahogany rails of his ship, The Prowler. The ship is an overnight cruiser that takes passengers out for just over a day of ocean fishing.

Aired 4/30/12 on KPBS News.

This year's San Diego Sport Fishing season will be different from any that have come before. That's because huge swaths of ocean are off limits to anglers creating uncertainty among those who make a living from the ocean's catch.

These preparations are all designed to get ready for the season. If everything works well, these freshly coated railings will be packed with anglers this summer.

"We'll have people scattered around the rail here, that we're just now finishing up," said Brizendine. A full load is 30, but the ship can go out with fewer people. "The big box shaped thing behind me here is the bait tank. And we would have between 50 and 100 scoops of live sardines, primarily."

Captain Buzz Brezendine talks about his ship, Prowler
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Above: Captain Buzz Brezendine talks about his ship, Prowler

The Prowler is one of about 45 sport fishing boats working out of San Diego Bay. Yellowtail, barracuda and bass are how anglers know spring has arrived. But the fleet's books are usually balanced in summer when the Tuna are biting.

"It's the bread and butter of this industry," said Bob Fletcher, past president of the Sport Fishing Association of California. "And so the tuna season is absolute chaos here. Everyone's happy either coming in or going out."

But fishing is not easy. The ocean can be fickle. A temperature swing of a couple of degrees can push the key sport fish out of range for local boats. The recession also hurts. Customers are scarce and fuel is expensive.

"And there's been four or five boats already basically gone bankrupt here in San Diego, and if we have another bad year there will be more. And the MLPA has not helped," said Fletcher.

MLPA is the Marine Life Protection Act. The measure puts large swaths of ocean off limits to anglers.

"So there's a rocky inter-tidal. And around that point, is rocky habitat. And a huge kelp forest," said Russ Vetter, of the Southwest Marine Fisheries Service. His agency manages the nation's fishing stocks.

Russ Vetter points to the marine reserve off the coast of La Jolla
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Above: Russ Vetter points to the marine reserve off the coast of La Jolla

"Mistakes that were made in the 50s, 60s and 70s are being corrected," said Vetter. He went on to say the marine protected areas are part of a sweeping effort to keep stocks healthy. Creating the marine reserves took more than a decade, but everyone involved saw that something had to be done.

"And even the sport fishing community will tell you, that while they may be selling trips to visitors, and they may be catching some of the more abundant fish. It certainly wasn't like it was back in the 1950s and 60s," said Vetter.

And while fish management is a lot better, it is hardly perfect. Regulators still struggle to make the right decisions, but sometimes that's all washed away by the California current.

"You have these wild swings in temperature and El Nino and La Nina," said Vetter. "So even when everything is done right, you can have a decrease in the population and then a few years later a sudden increase."

But conservationists and researchers hope the Marine Protected Areas create breeding grounds that will feed fishing stocks outside the reserves. Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist Ed Parnell wants the kelp forest off the shore of LaJolla to look more like the big kelp tank that he's standing in front of in the Birch aquarium.

"There's lots of fish here," said Parnell. "And a lot of them are very large compared to what you see in the wild. And I'm hoping that within the next five years we'll start seeing some of these. These are kelp bass here, sheephead, we'll be seeing more of them and in larger sizes."

Creating an environment where fish can get old and big, helps those fish propagate, according to Parnell, but marine reserves are different than above ground counterparts.

"There's not a lot of support in terms of looking at how effective they are or even maintaining the markers for their edges and things like that," said Parnell.

Parnell is worried there may still be fishing inside reserve areas because it's tough to see the boundaries. The Marine Protected Areas are still a work in progress and the impact on the environment is uncertain.

The impact captain Buzz Brizendine wants to see is on his bottom line. MLPA or not, He's hoping to land 1,000 paying customers this season. That would be enough to call 2012 a good year.

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Avatar for user 'corrynk'

corrynk | April 30, 2012 at 6:24 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

This report is an interesting topic that addresses the ideas of regulations that I have recently learned about. In the eyes of the sport fishers, the regulations placed by the MLPA are not making it easy to maintain a business with the current recession. Whereas, the MLPA are doing their best to impose boundaries off the shores of La Jolla that are “off limits” to help maintain habitats found in the kelp forests. Reading this article I see that the MLPA is trying to implement policies that will improve these kelp forest and fish habitats. However, I do not feel that the sport fishers are rebelling against these restrictions but rather introducing the idea of the hardship it brings on them. There are costs from implementing any type of regulation, and in this case the sport fishers are feeling the blunt of them. I think this article could have better described the benefits the MLPA plan on seeing by imposing these types of restrictions.

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Avatar for user 'Webster'

Webster | May 1, 2012 at 11:26 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

San Diego fisheries for many species have been fished to near death, and that the MPAs are desperately trying to save the species. Overfishing in the past and today is what is hurting the fishing industry, not the restriction of areas allowed for fishing. Often people catch a lot of fish along rich shores, then price of those fish fall, so fisherman must catch more fish to make ends meet. This just exacerbates the problem and leads to a spiral down the trophic levels. The broadcast makes MPAs sound like they hurt fishing more than they help the fish; MPAs are a necessary and are welcomed by most fishermen to help the survival of an industry. La Jolla has been an Underwater Park since the early 1970's and is a great refuge for fish species and dive site for ocean enthusiests! Great to hear about MPAs knowing its reaching the public though!

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Avatar for user 'zztop357'

zztop357 | May 2, 2012 at 7:56 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

I feel that this article, like many that we see in the news today, gives a somewhat biased opinion of a very controversial topic. If I were a reader who was completely unfamiliar with the fishing industry or with marine protection I would be inclined to believe that the MLPA is helping to protect our oceans from the salty, greedy fishermen who are out there trying to turn a profit at the cost of our marine habitats. This is not the case. This is a regulatory act that, despite having what I am sure were the best intentions at heart for all parties involved, is putting the livelihoods of many people at stake. I don’t think everyone realizes that the MLPA was put into effect based on reports of an annual decline in the yields of popular marine organisms. Fishermen and commercial divers feel the weight of these declines more than anyone and are now being additionally burdened by restrictions on the “large swaths of ocean” that are now off-limits to them. Furthermore, many assert that, as of now, the only people who are benefiting from the MPAs are poachers and also that within a few years (long enough for young fish to mature) the edges of the MPAs will simply become the most popular commercial fishing sites and render the entire MPA concept completely useless. I realize that it is easy to sit back and criticize from behind my keyboard but perhaps we should consider that it is not just the marine-life that is suffering; for the fishermen in our community, the candle is burning at both ends and something should be done to protect their interests as well.

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Avatar for user 'carmusewicz'

carmusewicz | May 4, 2012 at 12:52 a.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

This broadcast has highlighted some important factors that contribute to fluctuations within fish populations. As mentioned, climate conditions affecting the temperature, salinity, and overall health of habitat play a major role in determining whether a fish population will survive. Add changing climate conditions to the rotten economy and the frustrations by fishermen becomes understandable. However, I don't believe the MLPA should also be blamed. Rather than resenting what the MLPA has restricted, they should be thankful. There is no concrete way to tell how healthy fish populations are because there is no way to count every fish. Fish estimates in the past have been wrong and have critically impacted the populations because of overfishing, leaving fishermen jobless. It is important that sports fishermen recognize that the MLPA is enabling fish populations to have a chance to rebound and replenish which, if anything, in the long run will benefit their business. It is sad that the sole purpose is the profit that can be made and not actually caring about the impact made by sports fishermen. I think this coverage would have been more beneficial if more historical information was incorporated as well as a larger background of fishery problems within San Diego including the impacts fishermen had on the populations.
Judging on the rhetoric, I got the impression that those working on marine life protection areas and replenishing stocks had to defend themselves. In order for any fishing operation to make it in the long run, regulations and protection areas must be in place to prevent the exasperation of the resource which can cripple an entire ecosystem and leave not just a few fishermen jobless, but all. Yes, it is true that regulations do impose a burden on someone, somewhere, but for those fishermen with boats still around when the populations bounce back, they will be thankful. I don't think the protected areas should be anything to complain about because they are helping to revive the populations and give the best possible opportunity to bounce back. Overall, good broadcast, but I think the public would have benefited more if there was a better background regarding the impacts sports fishermen have on fish populations, the history behind the declining fish stocks in the 50's and 60's, an explanation of why fish regulations are difficult and why regulations are necessary. The topic is a great one but because it has a lot of historical context, it is hard to sum up within a short article because when left out the importance and criticality of rebounding fish stock rebounds seems minuscule.

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Avatar for user 'stefanievo'

stefanievo | May 5, 2012 at 2:11 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Like what I have learned from my history class, this article proves that regulations is complicated and do not help much. However, we cannot blame the MLPA because there is a limit on what a regulator can do. They do not have control over the amount of fishes in the ocean, the temperature of the water or the habitat in general. In addition, no improvement can be seen if regulators try to reserve the fish while the anglers are taking them from the ocean.
The anglers are also responsible to maintain the habitat and the number of fish. It says in the report that The Prowler use between 50 to 100 scoops of live sardines as bait for other fish. There are about 45 sport fishing boats like the Prowler working out of San Diego Bay. Scarifying one kind of fish for another kind is not doing any good for the habitat. In addition, each boat does not just take their customers out to the ocean once. They need to go out more in order to make benefits because the number of “customers are scarce and fuel is expensive.” Captain Buzz Brizendine would like to have 1000 paying customers this season which means that at least a thousand of fish would be catch. Regulation is hard, yet controlling the amount of fish that are taken by sport fishers is even harder.
Both anglers and regulators need to work together in other for them to maintain and improve the marine system.

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Avatar for user 'BrabynC'

BrabynC | May 6, 2012 at 3:59 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

As I learned in my Un-natural disasters course, although regulations may have the best intentions, they still always hurt someone in some way. This Video clip proves that San Diego is no exception. Sport fishers in San Diego depend on their catches each year and if they don't catch enough they go belly up. The MLPA puts restrictions on the ocean right off the coast of La Jolla, in hopes that the kelp beds and the fish will be able to repopulate and have a chance to get older and bigger like they are in the Birch Aquarium. As nice as this sounds taking away that area effects people. Fletcher states, "And there's been four or five boats already basically gone bankrupt here in San Diego, and if we have another bad year there will be more. And the MLPA has not helped." Its hard to find a place where both fish can flourish and so can people. It is obvious that fishing is not as good now as it was fifty years ago so if we stay at the same rate of fishing then obviously its going to keep decreasing until we reach a point where there is no fixing the population of fish problem. It is tragic for sport fishers to become jobless but i feel for the future these types of regulations need to be made, or at least regulations that make sure they don't harm the environment, as well as the fish that are caught need to be a certain size. But even with a regulation like this it is very hard to regulate. Resource issues are definitely hard to manage and control and i feel will always cause issues one way or another.

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Avatar for user 'rbari4'

rbari4 | May 6, 2012 at 10:39 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

For starters, sport fishing is a volatile industry. As stated in the article, fish can be plentiful one season and scarce in another. I don’t think the MLPA should be blamed entirely for the sport industry’s fishing boundaries and economic downturn. The MLPA is trying to regulate offshore fishing in order to replenish fish populations that have nearly been eliminated since the cannery period of the 20th century. The purpose of the MLPA is not to cause the sport fishing industry or other fisheries to go broke, but to prevent fishing exploitation by these very industries that depend on fish stocks. Fishing is a tough market to be in, and is very competitive, but there must be limits in order for fish stocks to be replenished by larger more mature adult fish, that have better reproductive success than smaller younger fish. The MLPA is there to replenish not only the fish diversity in the oceans, but the economic industries that benefit from it. It is very difficult to regulate the demands of the fishing industry, as well as protect the ecology of our oceans. So it is my belief that if you are in the sport fishing industry and know how volatile the catch may be, it would be wise to seek an alternate source of income. It is not wise to depend on one source of income, that is volatile in nature.

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Avatar for user 'JAT17'

JAT17 | May 7, 2012 at 11:20 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Although this report does discuss the traditional problem between regulations on resources and the industries that depend on these resources, it does not fully identify the locations designated by the MLPA to be reserves for fish populations. The location of these reserves is key when discussing this because many of the prime fishing locations for the “bread and butter” tuna are located much further out than the spots that are off limits because of the new MLPA regulations. Many sportfish have been pushed out of coastal waters because of heavy fishing and other factors such as pollution, which is why most fishing boats probably do not despise these regulations as much as it may seem in this report since most of the fish are located further away anyway. If anything these regulations are a great start for fishermen and conservationists alike because they are helping to preserve a diverse habitat that fosters smaller fish that will eventually make up the bulk of the catch in later years. Since tuna tend to be pelagic fish and these MLPA regulated areas are in shallower waters close to the small islands off the coast of southern California, the regulations should not have as big of an impact on sportfishing this summer as the unpredictable migration behaviors of tuna and other sportfish.

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