MORRO BAY—California’s coastline is ripe with stories of a rich fishing past, be it the tuna fishery in San Diego … or the albacore, salmon and sardine fisheries of Morro Bay. The first commercial fishery to arrive in Morro Bay – abalone – was in the early 1900s. Within three decades the Central California coastal town known for its large rock was home to several commercial fisheries: abalone, groundfish, salmon and sardine. Morro Bay, at around the same time, was also home to an active Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel fleet.
The city’s position as a thriving center for commercial fishing took a leap forward in the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to a creation of a 200-mile Economic Exclusive Zone, or EEZ, in the area.
“Morro Bay [thanks to the EEZ] had become a vibrant and productive fishing port, led primarily by the trawl fleet,” members of Morro Bay’s city staff said in a 2014 presentation on the city’s history with commercial fisheries. “This vibrancy was complemented by on-shore industry including fish processing, offloading facilities, ice production, seafood buyers, and fuel facilities. Along with the establishment of critical physical infrastructure was a formalization of the social infrastructure.”
Things cooled in the 1990s, when increased regulatory oversight, shifts in consumer preferences and the availability of inexpensive foreign imports contributed to the decline of Morro Bay’s commercial fishing industry.
“Total ex-vessel value (EVV) or earnings at the dock fell from approximately $8.5 million in 1990 to $1.9 million in 2007,” Morro Bay city staff stated in its 2014 presentation.
A remnant of the once thriving commercial fishing industry is the Morro Bay Commercial Fisherman’s Organization, which was found in 1974. More than 100 people were members of the organization, as of 2014.
“The Morro Bay fishing community has maintained a strong sense of social cohesion, self organization and leadership, as evidenced by the formation of the Morro Bay Commercial Fisherman’s Organization in 1974,” city staff told Morro Bay City Council members in 2014. “Social cohesion is also evidenced by the fishing industry’s strong relationships with city of Morro Bay staff and civic leaders, the aquaculture industry, local merchants, and with the Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel fleet, skippers and deckhands switching back and forth.”
City staff also acknowledged the local fishing industry for being inclusive.
“The recent formation and successes of the Central Coast Women for Fisheries is further evidence of the community’s ability to self organize, attract funding, support fishermen and fishing families, and educate the general public,” the Morro Bay city staff report continued.