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Every year local fishing and ocean related businesses add around $150 million to Humboldt County’s economy. But the industry is experiencing some challenges.

So researchers at Humboldt State University have set out to develop “fishing community sustainability plans” for Eureka and Shelter Cove, in an effort to ensure the industry’s long-term viability in the face of an uncertain future.

Laurie Richmond is an assistant professor of environmental science and management at HSU. She studies the human dimensions of marine and coastal systems and aims to change the perception that fishing on the North Coast is a dying industry.

“Since the ‘80s and ‘90s it’s declined a lot, but actually there’s been an uptick since 2008 and growth in the industry. So I think that sense of despondency, of hopelessness, looking at exciting things in other ports, I think we don’t have to say the industry is dying,” she says. “There’s a lot of creative things we can do within the current regulatory parameters to make the industry successful and sustainable.”

Richmond is knowledgeable about the current state of the local industry after recently completing a three-year study related to marine protected areas in the North Coast region, which are certain sections of ocean with limited fishing. Her team explored the socioeconomic implications of the MPAs. They looked at landings (which are fish and shellfish that are landed and sold), income, revenue, cost and fishing fleet statistics.

They discovered there’s lots of opportunities in the realm of fishing, but unfortunately there’s been a decline in fishing participation over the past two decades, a lack of young fishermen coming in, and a “graying of the fleet.”

She says, “The average age of a commercial fisherman on the North Coast is 55 and over a third of the fleet is over 60. So there’s questions of how sustainable is the industry when this batch of fishermen retire? Will there be people to replace them?”

Plus the study showed a decline in support industries and infrastructure linked to constriction of the fleet. So the idea for the new sustainability plan emerged from statistics of the MPA study. Richmond’s drive to develop the plan secured a $271,000 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant through the Saltonstall-Kennedy program and a $50,000 CSU agricultural research institute grant.

Funds are going toward conducting a multilayered two-year study which will allow Richmond, her team of experts and HSU graduate students the opportunity to gain information to develop a strong plan with concrete recommendations. The study is currently in its first phase — gathering and analyzing existing data. Future phases will include one-on-one interviews, advisory committees and public workshops.

In this LoCO Video Report we explore some of Eureka’s fishing-related hot spots, hear more from Richmond, and talk with two graduate students assisting with the research, Laura Casali and Rob Dumouchel.  

And this isn’t all — we’ll next discuss (in more detail) other phases of the study, learn more about the fisheries, and talk with a Eureka commercial fisherman who’s been in the business for 30 years.