Monterey to Morro: A fishers-eye view on #GAP2exchange

Here is the second instalment (and blog post) on the Lyme Bay – Morro Bay #GAP2exchange trip. Jon Shuker, a fisherman from Lyme Bay, on the Jurassic Coast, discusses what he got up to on the exchange, what he found out, and some reflections as to how this compares to his local fishing grounds…

Humpback read to dive © Emma Pearson

Humpback ready to dive © Emma Pearson


After a huge American breakfast of hash browns, grits, bacon, eggs and maple pancakes (something light to start the day!), we drove to Monterey Bay. We went up steep winding roads, through Giant Redwood Forests and along breath-taking views over the ocean while driving on the Pacific highway. Soon after reaching Monterey we went out whale watching and was I was lucky enough to see several humpback whales feeding on something or other. Seals and otters are also a regular occurrence in the area.

Big Sur the drive to Morro Bay © Emma Pearson

Big Sur the drive to Morro Bay © Emma Pearson


Today I met with the guys from Seafood Watch, I didn’t get much from the meeting: too many acronym’s for my liking!  Seafood Watch was set up 15 years ago and one of their initiatives includes a traffic light system which indentifies  which fish to eat to members of the public. These identifications are dependant on how they’re fished, farmed or how good the stocks are at the time.



Today I had a meeting with the guys from The Nature Conservancy (TNC). These guys know their stuff. The TNC works with the fishermen and the leaders of the community: they have bought six boats and fifteen licences from trawlermen and have then leased them back to the rest of the fleet. In consequence the fleet has now diversified to static gear nets, hook and line, pots and traps. In addition to this they also have a sizeable sea urchin fishery. The remaining trawlers have 50% less, which seems like a lot, but it still left them with 1.9 million acres of ground to fish. This proved that the buy-out from the TNC has worked better than the state buy out.

Black Nettle Jellyfish at MB Aquarium © Emma Pearson

Black Nettle Jellyfish at MB Aquarium © Emma Pearson

What did I get from this?  Basically you can still have a good sized fleet by finding a balance between static and non-static fishermen, however, effort needs to be regulated and at the same time profitable. I hear the same views from fisherman in the US as here in the UK: no pots, set net lengths and increase fish sizes (most fishermen think current crab size is generally too small) .

After the meeting with the TNC we visited the Monterey Aquarium. I have been to many Aquariums but this one has to be the best!! Second only to Lyme Regis Aquarium on the Cobb!!

After the TNC  meeting and aquarium we went for lunch where we met the harbour master and Mick Crabb (a fisherman who invests his time in discussing quota allocations). He has travelled across the USA (from the Atlantic to Pacific coast) to attend meetings so that Monterey fishermen can get a viable amount of quota. Mick Crabb showed us around an impressive looking 74 ft. aluminium ring netter, which is used for squid fishing in the Pacific ocean. We then drove further south along the Pacific Highway to Morro Bay. This was another stunning drive, when just as the sun was setting we saw elephant seals fighting in the surf in half moon bay.

Elephant Seal at Sunset © Emma Pearson

Elephant Seal at Sunset © Emma Pearson


We met with the TNC again this morning, along with Andrea Lueker of Morro Bay Community quota fund, and three other fishermen (*1). One fisherman was Jeremiah O’Brain, an inspirational man of 67 years, who like me is a diver, diving for abalone and sea urchins up and down the west coast of America. After the meeting, Jeremiah then took us on a tour of the harbour, where we met a young fisherman getting ready for his next fishing trip for Dungeness Crab and spiny Lobster (*2).

We also met Captain Rob who operates the fishing vessel ‘South Bay’, a 56 ft trawler.  Rob founded the South Bay Wild Corporation with his wife Tiffany in order to give fishermen power over their product and improve efficiency in the seafood supply chain. Rob is also President of the Morro Bay community quota fund (MBCQF) a non-profit organisation intended to secure local stewardship of ground fish resources. He is also vice president of the central California Seafood Marketing association a non-profit co-operative fisherman’s organisation working to build value and security for other fishermen. Additionally, Rob is also on the advisory board for the California risk pool (a collaboration between fishing organizations from three Californian coastal communities). He also holds a position on the advisory board for the TNC.

I don’t know how he finds time to go fishing! Also when we met him, he was busy building a stall to sell his catch directly to the public on the Quay!!I learned a lot from Rob, and will be pinching his ideas regarding direct marketing, to use over in the UK.

After that Eric (the Harbour Master) brought us on a trip around the harbour, which was very interesting. He informed us of the value the community put on the fishing industry and how to balance space between fishermen and other marine users, (and its restraints). The fishing industry creates jobs for fishermen, fishing suppliers, fuel providers, fish merchants, mechanics, electricians, insurance brokers, etc. One boat can create seven jobs onshore!! Food for thought?

 *1 At the TNC meeting on Tuesday we met Bill Bloe, a 58-year-old fisherman and Captain of the ‘Brita Michelle’. Bill fishes for Dungeness crab and black cod. Bill told me he exports his crab live to China and if I could get our fish/crab live to China I would ” have it made.”  This is something I will be looking into.

 *2 Jeremiah still fishes for abalone, tuna, salmon and swordfish.

Long Liner © Emma Pearson

Long Liner © Emma Pearson


After another large breakfast we met Bill Bloe (the ‘Brita Michelle Captain’) and another fisherman. We talked some more about fishing…

 “Fishing is part of our heritage. It is something that needs to be preserved. Tourists don’t come to see Morro just to buy a T-shirt or stuff –  they come to see the harbour and the boats landing their catch. The hustle and bustle of life on the sea.”

This is something I can definitely relate to Lyme Bay. When I land you see crowds of tourists staring down at the catch asking questions like “What kind of fish is that?”;  “Where do you fish?”;  “How far out do you go?” and “Where do you sell your catch?”. After that they will maybe go to a restaurant and eat the fish you have caught. We have to look after tourists and be helpful to them, since they eat our product.

Afterwards we drove to Santa Barbara, and had a meeting with the TNC, the company “Salty Girl Seafood” and researchers from the sustainable fisheries group at Ben School. “Salty Girl Seafood” founders Norah, Laura and Gina have just started the company, which distributes sustainable seafood from small inshore fishing boats directly to restaurants. It seemed that they like to take the prime fish, get a better price for it but then you would be left to sell the rest to a merchant. Not sure if that would work in the UK, although you can do similar things on Facebook. Some boats sell their catch whilst at sea, which is maybe something that can be integrated into the e-Catch App. After the meeting we went down to the docks, and had a quick chat with some urchin divers (*3) and after that then met John – a lobster fisherman who was landing his catch of spiney lobster. The lobster season had just started so most boats were out. They go 25 miles out to the Channel Islands (staying out 1-2 nights at a time), anchor in a sheltered bay for the night, fish all day then head back full steam to Santa Barbara.

 *3 Sea Urchin Divers catch large quantities of sea urchins and export them to the far-east. Although the boats are only 28 ft. they can carry 8,000 lbs. of Urchins! The boats  have twin 340 hp inboard engines and cruise back loaded at 16 knots but sometimes they load too much, and on occasion have sunk.  Jeremiah told us of a diver that was so overloaded that if he had stopped moving forward water would have come in through the rear scuppers and fill up his boat. So he had to motor around the harbour until it was his turn to unload, then he came along side the Quay and duly sunk!

Lobster in Santa Barbara © Emma Pearson

Lobster in Santa Barbara © Emma Pearson


The fishermen are treated like local heroes, and are made to feel valued by the community and local council, as they are a vital part of the local tourist industry.  The fishermen I met (especially Mick Crabb, Rob, Seitz and Jeremiah) work tirelessly with the TNC and quota-governing bodies to get the best for fishermen as well as the environment. There are some big differences between Lyme bay and California. The Californian fishermen go at least 20 miles out to sea, I think this is due to the large population of seals and sea lions eating the fish.. Much of the fleet is nomadic (travelling 100’s if not 1000’s of miles) for salmon, abalone, tuna etc. They could not believe I make a living going only one mile off shore!

Elephant Seal Viewpoint near San Simeon © Emma Pearson

Elephant Seal Viewpoint near San Simeon © Emma Pearson


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