We are a grassroots effort to support our fishing community and a sustainable future for our seafood harvest.
The Santa Barbara Channel
The waters of the Santa Barbara Channel region feature incredibly dynamic temperatures, currents, and nutrient levels. This dynamism comes from the combination of cold and warm currents colliding in the Channel and a complex geomorphology from islands, headlands and canyons that further stir up the ocean currents as they flow by.
These complex currents concentrate plankton, creating lush feeding grounds that support large schools of squid, sardines and mackerel which in turn fatten up migrating whales, tuna and swordfish as well as resident sea lions, dolphins, sharks and other predators.
Our nearshore habitats include kelp forests, rocky reefs, sand flats and sea grass beds. In deeper waters, shrimp and bottom fishes like rock cod and halibut thrive along underwater shelf and canyon areas. Both subtropical and cold water species can be found in the Channel.
The ocean currents and nutrient levels change dramatically with the seasons and from year to year due to El Nino and La Nina cycles. In El Nino years, northern currents strengthen bringing warm waters and boom years in subtropical species like sheephead, lobster and swordfish. In La Nina years, southern currents strengthen, allowing kelp, urchin, squid and other cold water species to thrive.
As a result of all this complexity and diversity, abundance of any one seafood product fluctuates widely over the years and seasons, but there are always several species that are booming. Our dynamic waters are best suited to small-scale, adaptable fisheries that respond to the ups and downs of species availability. Consequently, we have almost no large industrial boats operating locally. Instead, much of the fishing community is made up of part-timers who work in other sectors when the fishing season ends or when conditions shift. Almost all are owner-operated boats with crews of 2-4. Responding adaptively to the ecological conditions is a key aspect of fishing sustainably.
California has some of the most stringent fishing regulations in the world and our coast has been a leader in setting aside permanent no fishing areas and seasonal closures. These areas serve as insurance against overfishing and protect nursery grounds or sensitive species like turtles and marine mammals where they congregate most often. Our community has also been involved in innovating fishing gear to reduce its environmental impacts.
The global seafood industry is rampant with fraud, illegal fishing, and environmental destruction and waste. Supply chains are often long, spanning multiple continents, making it impossible to truly know where your seafood comes from, whether it was harvested legally and even what species you're buying. A 2009 government report estimated that 37% of fish are misrepresented in their labeling. More recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time, disguising species that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available. Many fishing techniques and fisheries routinely discard 50-90% of what they catch (the wasted fish is called bycatch). Approximately 25% of all fished marine life is discarded as bycatch. In addition, the last twenty years have seen a massive increase in fishing methods that damage the sensitive ocean floor.
Seafood consumption has risen dramatically in the past few decades and the ocean is not able to support it. The majority of seafood now comes from aquaculture, a new industry that grew faster then basic standards for social and environmental protections could be established. While there are now a small number of fish and shellfish farms that are highly sustainable, most of the market still has a long way to go to be considered sustainable.
California local seafood is some of the most environmentally friendly protein you can get. U.S. and in particular, California, fisheries are some of the most tightly regulated and well managed in the world. If you buy from a trusted source, you avoid issues of fraud and mislabeling. Food miles are minimized when buying locally and the carbon burned to harvest seafood is also low relative to farmed animal protein.