By Chris Adams
For a group of National Press Foundation fellows exploring the fate of the world’s oceans and the sea life contained within, Sherry Flumerfelt explained what it means for one community: Monterey, California.
Flumerfelt (bio, Twitter) is executive director of the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust, which since 2014 has worked to help the fishing industry in its area recover along with the species – primarily groundfish – that swim the waters off its shores.
“We are trying to help achieve a balance between healthy ocean and healthy fishing economy,” Flumerfelt said. “The West Coast groundfish trawl fishery has made this remarkable comeback, but the local fishing industry hasn’t caught up.”
Today, Flumerfelt said, “It’s next to impossible to get local fish in local markets.” About 20 years ago, groundfish fisheries collapsed. They have since recovered, but in the meantime restaurants and markets built new supply chains, including those involving cheaper imports. (Groundfish includes more than 90 species of bottom-dwelling marine finfish, including rockfish, sablefish, thornyheads, lingcod, Dover sole and some sharks and skates.)
That the fishing industry is struggling in Monterey carries a sad irony, since the town and its famed Cannery Row have long been celebrated, particularly in the writing of Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck.
After the collapse of the fishery, the imposition of a catch-share program and other management initiatives helped bring it back. Just 14 years after being declared a federal disaster, experts declared the West Coast groundfish fishery as sustainable and well-managed. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program upgraded 21 species in the fishery from its “Avoid” list to a “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” ranking.
“We have all these species that have recovered,” she said, “yet our fishing industry is still struggling to survive.”