Petition filed to open California MPAs for swordfishing

Blake Herman stands in the pulpit of the Sharon G., bearing down on a swordfish off the coast of California. Access to MPAs in the Channel Islands will afford Herman more options when weather and other factors limit where he can fish.
Blake Herman stands in the pulpit of the Sharon G. | Photo courtesy of Blake Herman
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Blake Herman harpoons swordfish off the coast of the U.S. state of California and hopes to gain access to the state's marine protected areas off the Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara islands. 

When the California Fish and Game Department offered stakeholders the opportunity to petition for regulatory changes, Herman submitted a petition to open three MPAs for pelagic fishing.

“If you read the original statements from back in the early 2000s when these MPAs were established, it says very clearly that the MPAs are intended to protect groundfish and rockfish,” Herman said. “They said back then that these would not affect pelagics.”

While Herman believes the rationale for protecting rockfish is sound, he hopes his 36-page petition will convince state regulators it is equally sensible to allow fishing for pelagic species such as swordfish and bluefin tuna.

“A rockfish lives on the bottom and can spend its life in a small area, but swordfish can come from Hawaii to here and go back again,” he said.

Hermon uses a 58-foot boat, the Sharon G., which is owned by his family, and often hunts the waters around the Channel Islands. The vessel has a crow’s nest for spotting fish and a long pulpit extending from the bow where Herman stands to harpoon a fish. 

“Swordfish feed at night in the deep cold water and rest on the surface in the day. We can usually get at least one, and on a good day, if we have a plane, we can get two or three. The best we’ve done is nine.”

Herman would like access to two MPAs south of Santa Cruz Island and one southwest of Santa Barbara.

“The fish are sometimes in those MPAs on the backside of the islands,” he said, noting that military closures in the area and weather often limit where he can fish and that access to those areas would broaden his options.

“The MPAs are unnecessary for these pelagics,” he said.

In his petition, Herman presented four options to the regulators. His preference is the second option, which allows the recreational take of highly migratory species and the commercial take of highly migratory species by hook-and-line and swordfish by harpoons, as well as the possession of coastal pelagic species and the use of deep-set buoy gear in the federal portions of the proposed MPAs.

“I’m a part-time fisherman,” Herman said. “I’m also a chemist. I know how to collect data and assemble a strong argument, and that’s what I did with my petition.”

Herman submitted his petition before the November 2023 deadline, and it is now under review by the California Fish and Game Department.

“They will send a report on the petition and their opinion on it to the Fish and Game Commission, which will decide,” Herman said. “It’ll take nine to 15 months.”

Reporting by Paul Molyneaux

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