Santa Barbara Channel

santa barbara channel

The Santa Barbara Channel (SBC) region extends from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County south to Point Dume in Ventura County and includes the four Northern Channel Islands. The historic importance of fisheries resources in this area is evident from the activities of the Chumash Indians. Archaeologists have found large 'middens' - remnant piles of a great variety of shells and fish bones - illustrating the significance of seafood to the diet of native peoples long before European settlement. Today, the region provides seafood worldwide, from a diversity of both finfish and shellfish fisheries.

Fishing communities

This region encompasses two counties with four primary port-based fishing communities (listed north to south):

Santa Barbara County Ventura County
Santa Barbara Ventura
  Channel Islands (Oxnard) Harbor
  Port Hueneme
Types of commercial fisheries

The region supports a variety of fisheries, with squid, lobster, and sea urchin among the most active. Landings vary among the four harbors, with Port Hueneme and Ventura supporting the larger, coastal pelagic species (market squid in particular) purse seine operations, and Santa Barbara and Channel Islands (Oxnard) harbors prmarily serving the smaller dive, trap and trawl operations. The mix of fisheries and level of activity in each port and overall varies as a function of changes in species distribution and availability, market demand, regulations, physical infrastructure, buyers and other factors.

In 2013, commercial fishermen landed more than 111 million pounds (50,350 metric tons) of seafood in this region with an ex-vessel value (amount paid to fishermen) of nearly $50.5 million. The top fisheries (species-gear combinations, in alphabetical order) in terms of pounds landed and/or ex-vessel value included: 

See our regional seafood posters and the commercial fishery landings data (links below) to learn more about the fisheries of this region.

Ex-Vessel Value (≥ $1.4 million each) Pound Landed (≥ 1.5 million pounds each)
Market squid seine Coastal pelagic finfish (anchovy, sardine) seine
Red sea urchin dive Market squid seine
Rock crab trap Red sea urchin dive
Spiny lobster trap Rock crab trap
Spot prawn trap, trawl  
Fisheries Seasonality

The chart below shows the times when the major commercial fisheries of the Santa Barbara Channel region are most active. Other smaller fisheries, while also important, are not shown here. This chart combines all gear types that target the indicated species. Note that fishing activity does not necessarily start at the beginning or stop at the end of a month, and that the timing and types of fisheries may vary from year to year. (See state and federal commercial fishing regulations for current and specific dates.)

Seasonality of selected Santa Barbara Channel California fisheries in 2013

seasonality graph

The local ocean environment

The Santa Barbara Channel (SBC) region is the northern portion of the Southern California Bight, an area that extends from Point Conception to Baja California in Mexico. A great diversity of fisheries occur in the SBC region due to several key features:

  • Oceanographic transition zone
  • Strong upwelling zone
  • Northern Channel Islands
  • Port Hueneme Submarine Canyon

The SBC is a transition zone where the cold waters north of Point Conception mix with the warm waters of Southern California, resulting in a complex system of oceanographic currents and a great diversity of northern and southern ocean species. Upwelling occurs off Point Conception (usually from March through September), providing cold, nutrient-rich waters that move eastward throughout the channel. The region also includes the four Northern Channel Islands – San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Anacapa – and associated rocky reefs and kelp forests that are located 12-28 statute miles (19-45 km) off the coast. These islands provide additional habitat for marine life and some protection from southerly storms.

channel islands
Looking over wildflowers and cactus to historic buildings and the Anacapa Island Lighthouse. Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, California. February 1, 2007. Photographer: Robert Schwemmer, CINMS, NOAA
The Management Context

The region's commercial fisheries are managed by the state through the California Legislature, the Fish and Game Commission and the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW); by the federal government through the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS); or by both (see Management Context for more information). The following table shows which government entity (or entities) has management authority and the management measures used for some of the region’s most active fisheries. 

Fishery Management Authority Management Measures
  State Federal Limited entry Quotas Time/area closures Species size/sex rules Gear restrictions
Blackcod (sablefish) hook-and-line, trap, trawl
Coastal pelagic finfish seine  
Market squid seine    
Red sea urchin dive    
Rock crab trap      
Sea cucumber dive, trawl      
Spiny lobster trap    
Spot prawn trap      

Note: Management authority and/or measures may vary for a given fishery depending on species and/or gear type

Information Sources