MPA monitoring: collaboration in action

Today was an early start!

I was out the door by 5.30am to dash up to Moss Landing (home of the Moss Landing Marine Lab) and join other volunteer fishers on board a fish survey in and around Point Lobos SMR. This was thanks to the kind invitation of the staff and students of the California Collabroative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP) who run state wide fish surveys of several MPAs in the region.

This is a particularly cool survey because it actively encourages the involvement of local people to come take part. Most have fishing experience but as my involvement shows, it's not essential! I could count on one hand the number of fish I've caught before today. Now, I'll be needing a lot more hands! We had 9 anglers on board, plus a set of CCFRP staff and the help of Josh the deckhand to unhook the fish, measure, tag and release the fish.

Conditions were pretty choppy at first. Each stop we fished in 15 minute slots, some with bait, some without. All fish are measured for size, species, any physical features and any tag information.

An introduction to CCFRP, a program that conducts a tag and release fishing program to evaluate the effects of marine protected areas on populations of fish species along central California. Please visit our website at http://seagrant.mlml.calstate.edu/research/ccfrp/, follow CCFRP on Facebook or email seagrant@mlml.calstate.edu for more information!

First stop was inside the SMR a little further offshire. Honestly, this first sampling site was just unreal. We seemed to have entered a bit of a baitball situation and the fish were just jumping on our hooks. I put my unbaited line down first time and in 2 seconds I had two rock fish on the line. This fishing lark is a piece of cake! in 15 minutes, we caught and released 409 fish!! Just incredible teamwork especially to record and release them all so quickly.

In the next grid cell, also inside the SMR results were still amazingly abundant, with well over 150 to 200 fish I would have estimated in 15 minutes. Including some fish previously tagged in years gone by - this mass of fish was the clearest practical evidence that these SMRs are really working. If I could catch a hundred fish in a day, then it must be well-managed! (I think this should be the new baseline for any MPA.

In total, despite the weather conditions, we did around twelve 15 minute sessions, both inside and outside the SMR, pulling up 714 fish. What was remarkable was the difference between the sites inside the SMR and the ones outside, where we barely caught a few gopher dogfish or blue rockfish. This stuff is being shown in the scientific literature, but it's another thing to see it in person, and even better that local fishermen can see it too.

All this data feeds into improving the management of the SMRs, highlighting that they work when they are well-managed and given time. It's such essential information, collected in an inclusive way. I can't think of many UK programmes that do this, where science (especially MPA and fish surveys) is the realm of the scientists and statutory agencies.

After a tiring morning, it was back to Moss Landing for 2pm. On the way I saw wild sea otters, shearwaters, sealions and the blows of humpbacks. And then a nap!

Check out the CCFRP's website at https://www.mlml.calstate.edu/ccfrp/  and some of the photos of the trip below to show I did catch stuff (photos of me thanks to the guys at CCFRP)