Research to Help Fishermen Add Value to Local Catches


Ana Pitchon
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
CSU Dominguez Hills

James Hilger
Fisheries Resource Division
NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center


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March 22, 2012

LiDAR at work

Ana Pitchon, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at CSU Dominguez Hills, discusses changes in modern fisheries.

March 22, 2012

Contact: Christina S. Johnson,, 858-822-5334

Across the country, fishermen increasingly find themselves looking into ways to take advantage of value-added products. By selling fish live, processing raw product or by educating the public about seafood, they can end up making more money.

A new NOAA Sea Grant study will explore what can be done to add value to fish and shellfish landed in California, as part of a broader effort to help America's fishing communities thrive under environmental, economic and regulatory change.

Ana Pitchon, an assistant professor of anthropology at California State University, Dominguez Hills in Los Angeles County, is leading the project with co-investigator James Hilger, a fisheries resource economist at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla.

The project is part of a $1-million West Coast Sea Grant social sciences initiative, funded by NOAA Sea Grant and its partners.

"We are thrilled at the opportunity to focus on California's fishing communities and to learn more about how fishermen are innovating to maintain themselves," Pitchon said. "The project will look at whether new market channels and product forms can help fishermen improve their lives and livelihoods."

Josh Fisher, vice president of the California Lobster and Trap Fishermen’s Association, called the research "vital to the survival of West Coast fisheries."

This spring, Pitchon will begin interviewing fishermen in ports up and down the state to document all the different ways in which they are modifying or revamping their business practices.

She will also be asking fishermen whether they plan to, or feel pressure to, leave the fishing industry and what their alternative job plans might be. She is also interested in hearing what fishermen say is needed to rebuild or maintain fisheries.

The last 15 years have been economically stressful ones for many California fishermen, as they have faced rising fuel prices, collapses in the West Coast groundfish and salmon fisheries and, more recently, closures of fishing grounds under the state's Marine Life Protection Act.

In response, fishermen are changing how they think about fishing. They are starting cooperatives, co-managing fisheries, switching gear types, selling bycatch, improving how they handle their catches, and even, in some cases, voluntarily taxing themselves to fund fisheries research.

Some fishermen are proactively interacting more with the public, teaching restaurant chefs how to prepare the species they catch, or promoting the health and culinary advantages of their wild-capture products. Whole fisheries are getting themselves “ecolabel” certified as sustainable by independent third parties, to open high-end markets in North America and Europe where sustainability can command a premium.

"The innovations can be individual," Pitchon said. "There is no blanket solution for all fisheries and all communities."

One of the main goals of the two-year project is to identify factors – economic, social, regulatory and geographic – that may constrain or encourage innovation in fishing communities.

The researchers also hope to tease apart actual and perceived benefits of new business models using four different fisheries as case studies – the Pacific sardine, Dungeness crab, nearshore live finfish and spot prawn. Each of these fisheries is in a different stage of developing value-added products that can help fishermen offset higher operating costs or smaller catches, and ultimately, potentially increase revenues.

Findings from the project will be presented at workshops and town hall meetings and developed into a set of recommendations to be shared with coastal communities and managers.