Fishing boat in the fog off the California coast.
California Fishing Boat Fishing boat in the fog off the California coast. © David Hills. david@davidhillsphotography.com

Stories in California

Transforming Ocean Conservation in California

The world needs a new approach to protecting our oceans, and California is at the forefront.

Our oceans are critical to all life on earth. Our oceans are the primary source of protein for one in seven people worldwide. They fuel economies—like fisheries, tourism and trade, and host some of the most ecologically valuable areas on the planet.

But as oceans become more stressed because of pollution, development, overfishing, and climate change, their ability to provide essential benefits to people and nature declines.

In California, TNC has a team of scientists, technologists and conservation practitioners testing new, collaborative ways to protect ocean resources and coastal communities. We are demonstrating what innovative ocean management can look like—not only in California, but around the world.

FISHERIES

PARTNERING WITH FISHING COMMUNITIES TO IMPROVE OUR FISHERIES AND OCEAN HEALTH

In California, our Fisheries Team is focused on solutions for healthy ocean ecosystems and thriving fisheries.

Some of the greatest threats to ocean ecosystems stem from poorly managed fisheries. Fisheries provide a food source for 3 billion people and directly employ over 30 million fishers worldwide, but sustainability is limited by problems that produce threats like overfishing, bycatch, and habitat destruction. In California and around the world, limited public funding, capacity, and data are straining outdated management models in meeting their objectives – particularly in a changing climate.

We have found that the people best positioned and motivated to restore ocean health are the ones that depend on it most: fishing communities. We work with fishermen and community leaders motivated to improve their fishery and match their expertise with our team’s cutting-edge science, technologies and unique experience. Together, we apply adaptive, cooperative management and develop innovative climate-ready fishery solutions that can better support healthy oceans, healthy fish populations, and resilient fishing communities. 

Our Approach is Getting Results

Our efforts in California have resulted in breakthroughs that have helped rebuild fisheries, secure coastal jobs, and sustain important sources of seafood.

  • Groundfish: We’ve worked in partnership with fishermen and community leaders to help revitalize the West Coast groundfish fishery that collapsed over a decade and a half ago. Over the last decade we’ve demonstrated cooperative harvest practices, tested new technologies, conducted scientific research, and developed new institutions to maintain fishing rights in communities. We’ve helped the California Groundfish Collective reduce its bycatch of overfished species by 50% compared to the rest of the fleet, and together we tested electronic monitoring, a technology which uses video in place of human observers on fishing vessels, to prove out a more cost-effective option for ensuring compliance with harvest regulations. In addition, our team engages in seafood market incentives to support fishing businesses for fishermen who have changed their harvest methods to provide sustainable seafood people can trust.
  • Swordfish: Within the California swordfish fishery, we are testing new fishing gear with local fisherman and environmental researchers to more effectively target swordfish and avoid turtles, sharks, and marine mammals. Our shared goal is to apply the new gear to achieve profitable and sustainable swordfish businesses that bring high-quality fish to local California markets and reduce our reliance on imported seafood from fisheries that are less regulated. We’re now working to leverage these successes in California to begin to tackle global bycatch challenges and are exploring pathways to scale this gear to countries like Peru and Chile.
  • Dungeness crab: We are collaborating with West Coast Dungeness crab fishing communities, management agencies, and scientists, to find new ways to reduce the risk of whales becoming entangled in fishing gear and improve the response to free trapped whales. Together, we are building programs to retrieve crab pots lost by fishermen during the season, training fishermen to help participate in the response to free entangled whales and have developed a tool guiding management action in times of increased entanglement risk.    
  • Red abalone: We are working with recreational abalone divers and other NGOs to pioneer cost-effective improvements to how we manage the abalone fishery in California and beyond. In collaboration with our partners, we have developed a data collection program that relies on citizen scientist SCUBA divers and a web application that uses image recognition technology to analyze photos submitted by any of the 25,000+ abalone divers in California. We developed a ground-breaking, climate-ready management framework that can integrate harvester collected data sets and other important streams of information to assess stock health and improve decision-making.    

Through this work, we are advancing climate-ready fisheries management by working closely with partners, testing innovative solutions on-the-water, modernizing California’s data collection methods and management frameworks, and influencing transformations around the world to support human wellbeing and ocean health.    

Filling the Data Gaps

One of the biggest challenges facing sustainable fisheries is the lack of information necessary for responsible management. These information gaps mean that managers, fishermen, and consumers are less informed and may be more likely to put ocean ecosystems at risk. One of the best ways to address this challenge is to work directly with fishermen, communities, and management agencies to build the tools and technology needed to allow fishermen to share real-time catch data with each other and with scientists and managers. We are filling these data gaps by conducting collaborative research with fishermen, academic, and agency partners to address key data needs in our priority fisheries.

Transforming Fisheries Management

When fishermen participate in the management of their fisheries, it results in better solutions that support healthy, productive fisheries. By working directly with fishermen to build new tools and engage in demonstration experiments on the water, we are supporting new partnerships to ensure policy changes are informed by science and experience.

Our vision is to transform California’s fisheries, their ecosystems, and the communities they support so that they are resilient to a changing climate by revolutionizing how they are managed. Success in California can then be replicated across more fisheries and ocean areas to deliver healthier ocean ecosystems and sustained benefits to people around the world.    

KELP

RESTORING AND PROTECTING KELP FORESTS IN A CHANGING OCEAN

California’s incredible kelp forests are one of the defining features of our coastline – and they are at risk of disappearing.

Warming ocean temperatures and shifting ecosystem dynamics are driving a massive die-off of kelp forests not only in California, but across the globe in places like Australia, Norway, and Chile. TNC California is committed to leading the way to address this global conservation threat by advancing solutions for protecting kelp forests in California and around the world.

CALIFORNIA LEADING GLOBALLY

Kelp loss presents a conservation threat with broad impacts to global fisheries and coastal communities. Kelp forests form the foundation of the nearshore ocean ecosystem and are critical to the diversity and resilience of marine life. These critically important ecosystems provide habitat and nursery grounds for important species like sea otters, rockfish, and urchins, help locally ameliorate ocean acidification, and even protect coastal communities from storm surge.

Off the north coast of California, we are witnessing catastrophic kelp forest loss—more than 93 percent of bull kelp has disappeared over the past 10 years. Driven by changing ocean conditions, human-caused disturbance and a population explosion of grazing purple sea urchins, this sharp decline in kelp forest health is an emerging concern that TNC is working to address.

TNC’s California Oceans Program is working to develop replicable solutions that will be proved out in California that can be implemented to protect and recover kelp forests in key geographies around the world.

RESTORATION AND ACTION TO PROTECT KELP FORESTS

We have recently launched an effort to develop new tools to help protect, restore and manage kelp forests in California, explore mechanisms to enhance the resilience of kelp forests in warmer water and more frequent storms, and create a network of kelp researchers around the world to coordinate data gathering and experimentation. 

With this initiative, we are working to ensure that kelp forests here in California and around the world continue to support the incredible biodiversity and healthy coastal marine ecosystems on which both nature and people depend. 

Coastal Dunes at Moss Landing in California
Coastal Dunes Coastal Dunes at Moss Landing in California © Kiliii Yuyan

COASTAL

California's Treasured Coast

California’s coast is perhaps its most renowned and valuable natural feature – one that is at risk due to sea level rise. To protect our coast and the value it provides to nature and people, we need novel conservation and policy guided by science.

informing conservation and management in the face of sea level rise

Sea level rise presents a challenge to the conservation of coastal habitats already impacted by human activities. Our first step in tackling this challenge was to develop an assessment of the vulnerability of habitats and imperiled species to sea level rise in collaboration with the California State Coastal Conservancy. We found 55% of coastal habitat area vulnerable to sea level rise, vulnerability of 29 rare, threatened, and endanger species, and that 41,000 acres of conservation lands will be drowned. Using these results, we developed a strategy action map comprised of five strategies for what needs to be done to maintain and enhance coastal habitat area in the face of sea level rise.

A VISION OF HOPE

After sharing this strategy map with key federal, state, and local agencies and decision makers, they have decided to put it to use. We have secured commitments from these agencies that signed onto a vision to maintain and enhance California’s coast in the face of sea level rise by working collectively to ensure the coast is protected for future generations to enjoy. TNC is now working with the 14 agencies that signed on to the “Hope for the Coast Campaign” to put this to work on the ground using best science in collective action to conserve coastal habitats.