The South Coast region includes several fishing communities in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. Historically, this area was known as the “tuna capital of the world," hosting a large fleet of tuna seiners and tuna-processing canneries, along with a variety of other fisheries. By the early 1980s, most of the canneries had moved offshore (to US territories and other countries). This significant change was due in large part to lower processing costs and the shift of many fishing operations to the western Pacific to avoid conflicts with dolphins and porpoises. Nonetheless, the region’s fishing communities have remained vital due to the continued productivity of the ocean ecosystem, the proximity to large urban centers and extensive port infrastructure, which connect them to domestic and global markets.
This region encompasses three counties with eleven primary port-based fishing communities (listed north to south):
|Los Angeles County||Orange County||San Diego County|
|Santa Monica||Huntington Harbor||Oceanside|
|San Pedro||Newport Beach||Mission Bay|
|Terminal Island||Dana Point||Point Loma|
|Long Beach||San Diego|
Types of local commercial fisheries
Although the commercial tuna fishery here is much less active than in the past, this region has continued to support a variety of fisheries, with coastal pelagic species (market squid and sardine in particular), spiny lobster and red sea urchin among the most active today. However, 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 117.7 million pounds (53,500 metric tons) of seafood in this region with an ex-vessel value (amount paid to fishermen) of nearly $45.8 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 California commercial landings data (links below) to learn more about the fisheries of this region.
|Ex-Vessel Value (≥ $1.5 million each)||Pounds Landed (≥ 500,000 pounds each)|
|Coastal pelagic finfish (anchovy, mackerel, sardine) seine||Coastal pelagic finfish seine|
|Market squid seine||Highly migratory species (shark, swordfish, tuna) gillnet, harpoon|
|Red sea urchin dive||Market squid seine|
|Spiny lobster trap||Red sea urchin dive|
|Spot prawn trap, trawl||Spiny lobster trap|
The chart below shows the times of year when the major commercial fisheries of the South Coast 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 South Coast California fisheries in 2013
The local ocean environment
The South Coast region encompasses the southern part of the Southern California Bight, which extends from Point Conception in the Santa Barbara Channel region to Baja California in Mexico. Key features of the region include:
- Southern Channel Islands
- Submarine canyons (e.g., La Jolla, Redondo, Point Dume)
- Several bays (e.g., San Pedro, Santa Monica, San Diego)
The four Southern Channel Islands – Santa Barbara, Santa Catalina, San Nicolas and San Clemente – are located about 20-78 miles (32-126 km) offshore from Los Angeles to San Diego. These islands provide habitat for many species, as do the region's coastal bays, enhancing the fisheries of the area.
While coastal geography and wind patterns limit upwelling in the region, several submarine canyons provide nutrient-rich waters to the coast, supporting a diversity of ocean species. The region’s close proximity to sub-tropical waters also adds to its fisheries diversity and productivity, as highly migratory species such as yellowtail and yellowfin tuna often migrate with the warmer water into offshore areas of the region. Temperate species such as albacore and bluefin tuna and swordfish also use these waters during their seasonal migrations.
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|
|Coastal pelagic finfish seine||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Market squid seine||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Red sea urchin dive||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Spiny lobster trap||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Spot prawn trap||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Swordfish gillnet, harpoon||✓||✓||✓||✓|
Note: Management authority and/or measures may vary for a given fishery depending on species and/or gear type
- California Marine Life Protection Act Initiative (CA MLPAI). 2009. CA MLPAI Regional Profile of the South Coast Study Region (Point Conception to the California-Mexico Border), June 25, 193 pp.
- Hackett, S. 2002. An Economic Overview of the California Wetfish Industry Complex. In California's "Wetfish" Industry: It's Importance Past, Present and Future, edited by D. Pleschner-Steele, Santa Barbara, CA: California Seafood Council, 65 pp.
- Leet, W.S., Dewees, C.M., Klingbeil, R. and E.J. Larson. 2001. California's Living Marine Resources: A Status Report. 4th ed. Sacramento, CA: CDFG, 562 pp.
- Pomeroy, C., M. Hunter and M. Los Huertos. 2002. Socio-Economic Profile of the California Wetfish Industry. In California's "Wetfish" Industry: It's Importance Past, Present and Future, edited by D. Pleschner-Steele, Santa Barbara, CA: California Seafood Council, 42 pp.
- San Diego History Center. 2012. TUNA! Celebrating San Diego's Famous Fishing Industry. Museum exhibit, April 21-December 31.
CDFW Commercial Landings Information
NMFS Commercial Fisheries Statistics
Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) Pacific Fisheries Information Network (PacFIN)
Southern California Ocean Observing System (SCCOOS)