Blake Herman harpoons swordfish off the coast of southern California and hopes to gain access to the state's Marine Protected Areas off Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara Islands. When the California Fish & 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,” said Herman. “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 that 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 come from Hawaii to here and go back again,” he said.

Hermon uses a 58-foot boat, the Sharon G., 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 stood 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—ten, really, but the last one got sharked.”

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 added.

In his petition, Herman presented four options to the regulators. His preference is option 2, which proposed:

  • The recreational take of Highly Migratory Species (HMS*) is allowed.
  • The commercial take of Highly Migratory Species (HMS*) by hook-and-line and swordfish by harpoons are allowed.
  • The possession of Coastal Pelagic Species (CPS) is allowed.
  • Deep-Set-Buoy-Gear (DSBG) is allowed 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 & Game Department.

“They will send a report on the petition, and their opinion on it, to the Fish & Game Commission, which will decide,” shared Herman. “It’ll take 9-15 months.” 

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Paul Molyneaux is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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