It's a trust thing: Assessing fishermen's perceptions of the California North Coast marine protected area network
The California's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is a recent high-profile initiative that led to the implementation of a network of 124 marine protected areas (MPAs) encompassing 16% of state waters. The effort was conducted through six different regional processes that incorporated stakeholder and scientific involvement, ending with the North Coast region. While the initiative has been described as a success in terms of implementation, there has been relatively little empirical research about social perceptions of the MPA network in order to examine whether stakeholders view the effort as successful. Our research team conducted surveys with 178 commercial and charter fishermen and held five focus groups in each of the major ports of the region in order to assess fishermen's perceptions of the California North Coast MPA network – including perceptions of both the process of implementation and potential outcomes from the network. Among fishermen, satisfaction with the overall process was low; however, the level of satisfaction with the inclusion of local input and the final location of the MPAs was more evenly divided. Levels of trust in management entities, including those who implemented the MPA network, were low. Additionally, in focus group discussions, fishermen described several perceived shortcomings of the process, including an overall “top-down” approach, a failure to consider the local context, and the appearance of being dismissive of fishermen's perspectives. In terms of outcomes, fishermen overwhelmingly did not believe that the MPA network would improve ocean health or their income from fishing. Qualitatively, fishermen reported that while they were experiencing some minor adverse effects from the MPA network, overall they did not believe that socioeconomic impacts on the fishing industry from the MPA network would be substantial. Many expressed relief that the location of MPAs avoided many important fishing grounds. Trust emerged as an important variable. For example, the reported level of trust by fishermen in the entity that implemented the MPA network had a statistically significant correlation with their level of satisfaction with the overall process, including the final location of the MPA network. Findings complicate initial assessments of the MLPA implementation process as an overall success, and highlight the importance of trust to building successful and lasting marine conservation initiatives.