Demise of South Bay Wild for Morro Bay

© 2018-Morro Bay Life

Morro Bay - There are a lot of stresses and strains in life that we all deal with but sometimes the abundance of requirements put upon us even just by life itself become too much and then we find we must make a change. In effect this is what happened to Rob and Tiffani Seitz and South Bay Wild.

When the Setiz family came to town they were excited about participating in the new Morro Bay Community Quota Fund, MBCQF (that’s fishing quota) so much so that Rob even became president of the organization. He had his own boat, the South Bay trawler, and looked forward to making a decent living as a fisherman, something he has been involved with his entire life.

At the time, the fishing industry was struggling. In 2000 the fishery was declared a disaster by the environmental arm of the federal government. That there was a problem is most likely a given and it serves no purpose pointing fingers of blame. The situation needed to be corrected for the benefit of the environment and for the fishing industry.

The “disaster” claimed that most of the groundfish population would need 100 years to recover even with major fishing method changes. Drastic moves were put in place though some scientists argued for a more middle of the road approach. For many fishermen, their time in this occupation was over.

There are some 90 species of flatfish, rockfish, roundfish and others in the U.S. West Coast groundfish fishery. In 2000, 14 of these fish found in the waters accessible for Morro Bay trawl fishermen to harvest were considered overfished.

“We did need to change the way we were doing things,” Seitz explained, “which we did, and some made more sense than others.” At the beginning of 2017, all but four of the overfished species were rebuilt and became target species thereby refuting the 100-year recovery claim.

The MBCQF came into place to be able to lease available quota pounds to trawl fishermen with appropriate permits. “Basically, the Quota Fund gives the rights to harvest fish to individuals who own a permit for an assigned number of pounds per species during a certain window period,” Seitz explained.

At the same time the Nature Conservancy came into Morro Bay and bought all the trawl boats, compensating owners, and essentially putting this type of fishery out of business. When Rob Seitz came to town he became the only person doing trawl fishing.

Some of the requirements for this fishery are to have a federal observer on board the boat every time it leaves port to go fishing, and this at a cost of approximately $500 a day. That was one hoop Rob had to go through.

It is impossible to trawl fish and not bring up fish that are considered overfished species. To accommodate this problem that part of a catch is Catch-Shared (leased out) to other fishermen in other areas that own available quota pounds for those overfished species.

Overfished quota was placed into the management hands of the California Ground Collective, otherwise known as the Risk Pool. Each fishing area formed its own groundfish collective organization, and members agreed to pool their entire allocation of quota pounds of overfished species. Fishermen agreed to specified fishing plans and to share information on the location of catches of overfished species via a program called eCatch. They also participated in marketing with the California Seafood Marketing Association for branding purposes, although this last arm has since been dissolved, with the Nature Conservancy stepping into its place.

Rob and Tiffani Seitz had big plans for their business. They obtained a lease site on the waterfront and put in a fish market where they could sell directly to the consumer. They recently went through the permitting process to open a retail market at the site. However even as they progressed with these plans their ability to make a decent living, make payments and maintenance costs on their boat, and find time for family activities were waning. It was more than a 24/7 operation.

Rob found it impossible to continue as a member of the California Groundfish Collective. “It forced me to compete with other larger ports like Fort Bragg for access to overfished species,” Seitz said, “even though the quota I needed was held by the Quota Fund and was supposed to be used to support local fishing.”

Rob made two proposals to the MBCQF to enable him to be able to purchase overfished quota pounds without belonging to the Risk Pool and these proposals would have required an alteration to Quota Fund bylaws. At the time, he was only asking for 200 pounds of Cow Cod, the overfished species in question, to allow him to adequately stay in business. The Board of Directors turned him down. They claimed he could purchase it on the open market, however Rob found there wasn’t enough available because 70% of it went to the Risk Pool for others. “I was only able to find 130 pounds and I used 350 pounds last year,” he said. Going over quota on a species causes the boat to be shut down. Facing that stress at only halfway through the year was too much. Rob decided to pull the plug.

Everyone loses. Rob and Tiffani go back to Oregon. There will be no fresh fish, caught still alive, no groundfish for area restaurants or farmer’s markets and no retail market. Could this have been avoided? Perhaps with a better understanding by the Board of Directors, which by rights is diverse but also has no trawl fishermen on it, and /or with some conflict resolution mediation, it all could have played out differently. For now, everyone loses.

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