Fishing boat in the fog off the California coast.
California Fishing Boat Fishing boat in the fog off the California coast. © David Hills.

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, The Conservancy 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.

Local Fisherman holding a rockfish on California coast.
California Fisheries Local Fisherman holding a rockfish on California coast. © Corey Arnold



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

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 develop innovative 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 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.
  • 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 and train fishermen to help participate in the response to free entangled whales. 
  • 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 have also developed a ground-breaking new framework that integrates these and other important streams of information to assess stock health and improve decision-making.

Through this work, we're building innovative solutions to global conservation challenges.

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 by revolutionizing how they are managed. Success in California can then be replicated across more fisheries and ocean areas to achieve ocean health around the world.

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



When the Naval Base Ventura County found itself under threat from rising sea levels, it decided to consider retreat – managed retreat, that is – with the help of The Nature Conservancy. Under a Memorandum of Agreement, signed in 2016, TNC and the Navy are working collaboratively to design a Coastal Resilience plan for the Base that uses the natural features at Point Mugu – wetlands, beaches and dunes – to protect base facilities from the ocean.

California's Treasured Coast

California’s coast is perhaps its most renowned and valuable natural feature – one that has been preserved from privatization for 40 years by the groundbreaking California Coastal Act. The Coastal Act was enacted in response to a clarion call from a strong and diverse constituency that appreciated the benefits to nature and people from coastal conservation, including the powerful economic engine the coast drives. However, sea level rise and other threats continue to place our coast at risk. The Coastal Act needs to change along with the shoreline.

Natural Infrastructure is the Wave of the Future for California

In the absence of policy change, Californians will be spending more than $70 million every year to construct coastal barriers to address erosion and sea level rise—barriers that have the potential to do significant harm to remaining coastal habitats. The traditional approach of building seawalls as a line of defense is expensive, transfers the ocean wave energy to adjacent beaches and often harms the natural value of that coastline. Although seawalls are a useful tool in some places, science highlights the value of another approach: natural infrastructure. Natural infrastructure refers to using the very habitats that development is displacing—dunes, wetlands, estuaries and oyster reefs—to naturally buffer storm surges and protect coastal communities from sea level rise.

Making Way for Wetlands

By using the best science and collaborating with major coastal landowners and managers – like the Navy – who control where and how development occurs, we can protect our remaining wetlands, and restore and create wetlands – allowing habitats to naturally migrate landward in response to sea level rise. We can also build the strong constituency necessary to drive policy change that will direct investment in coastal management toward natural infrastructure and future habitat protection, making shoreline armoring–with seawalls or structures–less appealing.

Science, Policy and Partnerships

The California Coastal Program is striving to achieve no net loss of coastal habitat in the face of sea level rise. We are doing this by:

  1. Producing cutting-edge science on coastal vulnerability to sea level rise and other stressors, developing specifications on Natural Infrastructure and other non-armoring approaches to reducing that vulnerability, and working with partners to integrate this science into decision-making;
  2. Using TNC lands and leveraging local stakeholder relationships to show how land protection and restoration in the face of sea level rise can be accomplished;
  3. Working with powerful coastal landowners to demonstrate how to protect their coastal assets using natural infrastructure and managed retreat to ensure coastal habitat into the future;
  4. Using our science and powerful partnerships to generate support for a comprehensive update to the state’s coastal management policy. 

Working strategically with major landowners, using the best science available, we are empowering decision makers to protect both nature and people across California’s iconic coastline and creating a model that can be exported around the world.

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