July 7, 2014
MORRO BAY, Calif. — Anyone seeking to learn about the fishing heritage of this port city, named for the huge rock that dominates its harbor, need only amble over to the “Liar’s Bench,” a sitting area along the Embarcadero for fishermen prone to telling tall tales. Or one could visit the Morro Bay Hookers, a thriving fraternity of fish-baiters who skewer anchovies and sardines onto hooks for a living, some 400 hooks per line.
Although this city of 10,370 has become a haven for retirees and tourists, commercial fishing remains Morro Bay’s symbolic heart and a mainstay of its economy. Ever since the commercial fishery was declared a federal economic disaster in 2000, fishermen in this coastal community of lazuline waters midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco have fought to hang on to their historic livelihood.
Faced with increased competition from corporate fish processors in bigger ports, fishermen here have joined forces with scientists and civic leaders to determine their own fate. In June, Morro Bay became the first community on the West Coast to do what their brethren in Cape Cod have already done: set up a community quota fund meant to give small-scale fishermen more equal footing with big-time operators.
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