Coastal Management Fall 2018

2018 Coastal Opinions

Over Harvesting  

By Tessa Thomas and Joseph Forrest

This image depicts the harsh reality our fisherman face daily. Their work is tiresome and grueling, but without them we wouldn’t have seafood products which is a major food source in many diets around the world. (JR 2016)


The overharvesting of the wildlife and natural resources of our oceans has become a major threat to the health and well-being of our oceans. It occurs when we take more of a resource than the population has the ability to replenish itself naturally (WWF 2018). One of the earliest known resources to be over exploited by humans was back in the 1800’s when we almost killed off the whale population for their blubber and oil so we could use it for lamp oil (National Geographic 2010). Over consumption of fish and wildlife from our oceans is a major disruptor of the food chain and can cause other species to be negatively affected as well. When we over consume top predators we imbalance the food chain in the bottom levels, such as an increase growth in algae which threatens the health of our coral reefs (CRA 2018). On healthy reefs, fish such as parrotfish and surgeonfish graze on the algae that would normally suffocate the coral. Over consuming these crucial members of the food chain will lead to more death and destruction than just the fish we intend to harvest (CRA 2018).

Fish are one of the biggest sources of protein for a large majority of the world (WWF 2018). When we threaten a major staple in our diet, it causes decreased food security, which is very concerning for the people who rely heavily on this resource daily.  “During much of the last half-century, the growth in demand for animal protein was satisfied in part by the rising output of oceanic fisheries. Between 1950 and 1990, the oceanic fish catch increased roughly fivefold, from 19 million to 85 million tonnes. During this period, seafood consumption per person nearly doubled, climbing from 8 to 15 kilograms” (FOC 2012).  Over harvesting has been a growing concern for many years. With the exponential growth rate of the world population it will continue to be an issue that cannot be ignored. If left unaddressed, whole populations of fish species could be eliminated and we could permanently change the ocean’s ecosystem.

Overview of Current Situation

Fisheries worldwide have declined significantly since the 1950’s (Young 2003). Harvesting historically conducted in our world’s oceans targeted species very high in the food web(Reynolds and Bruno 2012). Trophic cascades and decimations of certain marine megafauna populations have resulted in a fragmented ecosystems with “trophic skewing” affecting predator to prey species richness proportions (Reynolds and Bruno 2012).

Public opinion and surveys have been recorded regarding over harvesting and the health of our oceans. In an analysis of public opinion by the group “The Ocean Project” it is stated that “More than half of the public rate the overall health of the oceans negatively”(Russonello 1999). In that same report 45% of 1300 individuals stated “Over fishing by commercial fishermen” was a “very serious” problem(Russonello 1999). Sourcing data from twitter on this subject has also been a source of public opinion. In a small poll conducted by Sustainable Fisheries 45% of a small 157 person sampling group stated the United States fisheries are being over fished(Branch 2016). However, opinion of an issue is not the same as understanding the management steps needed to solve the problem. Therefore we have two hypothesis. They are:

Hypothesis 1: Overall the public believes we are taking too many fish from the sea. However, they are unsure if we are doing a good job managing our coast.

Hypothesis 2: There is a consensus that we are both taking too many fish from the sea as well as our ocean health has degraded.

Relevant Survey Questions

We conducted a paper survey within our local county of Ventura and two other neighboring counties of Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. The questions on the survey were all related to coastal management and the health of our coast. The questions focused on were directly related to the issue of harvesting fish, coastal management and coastal health:

Related to fishery health:

  •        9. Overall, we are taking too many fish from the sea.

___ agree ___ disagree ___ I don’t know

  •        17. Overall, California is adequately managing our coastal and marine resources.

___ agree ___ disagree ____ I don’t know / unsure

  •        18. The health of California’s coastal ocean is better now than in the 1950s.

___ agree ___ disagree ____ I don’t know / unsure

  •        20. California’s marine fisheries are healthier and more abundant now than in the 1950s.

___ agree ___ disagree ____ I don’t know / unsure

Participant Demographic:

  •        54. What is the highest level of education you have attained?

□ Some High School □ High School □ some College □ College Degree □ Post Graduate

  •        56. When it comes to environmental issues, my views are generally:

□ vert conservative □ conservative □ moderate □ liberal □ very liberal □ no opinion



  1. Our sample group agrees over harvesting is a concern.

According to our polling data general public feels that we are taking too many fish from the sea. This is represented in the chart above. However, 48% are unsure if we are managing our coastal and marine resources properly. Only twenty percent responded to this question with a positive result. Furthermore, there is a correlation between the general public’s attitude towards the coasts ocean health, our fisheries health and there response to if we are taking too many fish from the sea. The measurement of error here is very high with the average unsure response between these four questions at 38%.


  1. The education levels of our participants consisted mostly of either some college or a bachelor’s degree.




The education of our participants were 48% with some college and 32% with a bachelor’s degree. Out of all our participants 15% had only attended high school or graduated. Education beyond a bachelor’s degree made up 10% of our respondents. The table below shows the difference between a bachelors degree and a highschool graduates responses. The questions analyzed are if we are taking too many fish from the sea (question 9) as well as if we are adequately managing our coast(question 17).


Overall, we are taking too many fish from the sea. Yes No Unsure Error
College Degree 73% 9% 21% +/- 4%
High school Graduate (No degree) 74% 19% 32% +/- 4%

Regardless of education level the majority of our sample population agrees we are taking too many fish from the sea(question 9).

Overall, California is adequately managing our coastal and marine resources. Yes No Unsure Error
College Degree 20% 39% 41% +/- 4%
High school Graduate (No degree) 20% 29% 51% +/- 4%

Again regardless of education the responses are similar. A significant part of the sample group was unsure if we are doing a good job managing our coast. The response contrast the participants definitive answer of yes we are taking too many fish from the sea.  

  1. Political position shows a correlation.  

Among the 1,378 people surveyed 14% have conservative views, 33% have moderate views and 46% have liberal views of environmental issues (question 56). The response for persons with no opinion was at 12%.

The environmental position of the participants were then referenced against their opinion regarding if we are taking too many fish from the sea(question 9).


Overall, we are taking too many fish from the sea. Yes No Unsure Error
Conservative 60% 25% 21% +/- 4%
Moderate 63% 16% 31% +/- 4%
Liberal 77% 7% 22% +/- 4%

The sample group with a more liberal view on the environment had a more concentrated response of 77% yes on the subject with only 7% stating no.  Moderates appeared to be the most unsure on the question with 63%, 16% and 31% responding yes, no and unsure respectively. The participants with a more conservative view stated no more than the other two groups at a 25% response rate.

Error was averaged over the amount of responses to questions with planted false organizations. This helps to gauge participants honesty and if they were paying attention to the survey. The average response to false organizations was 4%.


One of the questions we focused on asked a basic true or false question as to whether we are taking too many fish from the sea. This is a simple yet powerful question that indicates the general consensus of our local communities relative to harvesting from the sea. The majority of people agree we are taking too many fish. However, a lot of the population is unsure on how we are managing our coast regardless of education levels. Clearly this is not a matter of lack of education but rather a lack of outreach by coastal management authorities.  The data suggests it could be an issue of public outreach.

Comparing the environmental political position of our respondents show a relatively united opinion on this same question. All groups agree we are taking too many fish. However, 25% of conservatives did state we are not, compared to only 7% of liberals. Clearly political position alters the no response of our participants.

Regardless of the demographic fluctuations the results do support our two hypotheses.

Key Takeaway

In general the participants agree we are taking more fish than we should from our fisheries regardless of political position or education level. The opinion towards the state of management of our coastal resources is not as clear. With 48% stating they are unsure if we are doing a good job managing our coast. This introduces a concern with public outreach and participation with coastal management authorities.

Coastal management authorities could use the outcome of this survey as a road map to a more informed public. Aligning everyone’s opinions with the reality of the situation could pay dividends in our efforts to conserve and restore our coastal resources.


Anderson, Sean. 2012. Public perceptions of coastal resources in southern California. Urban Coast 3(1): 36-47.

Bickerstaff, Susan, Maggie Fay, and Madeline Trimble. 2016. Modularization in Developmental Mathematics in Two States: Implementation and Early Outcomes. Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center. Working Paper No. 87.

Branch, T. 2016. Public Perception of the Ocean Differs from Actual Ocean Status – Sustainable Fisheries UW. https://sustainablefisheries-uw.org/public-perception-of-the-ocean/.

Lumina Foundation. 2015. A stronger nation through climate policy: Ten-year time horizon brings Goal 2025 into sharp focus. Retrieved October 25, 2017 from http://www.luminafoundation.org/ les/publications/A_stronger_nation_ through_climate_policy-2015.pdf

“Overfishing.” National Geographic, 27 Apr. 2010, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/oceans/critical-issues-overfishing/.

“Overfishing.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, 2018, www.worldwildlife.org/threats/overfishing.

“Direct Threats.” Coral Reef Alliance, coral.org/coral-reefs-101/reef-threats/direct/.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Communications Directorate. “Overfishing and Food Security.” Governement of Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Communications Directorate, 8 June 2012, www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/international/media/bk_food-eng.htm.

Reynolds, P. L., and J. F. Bruno. 2012. Effects of Trophic Skewing of Species Richness on      Ecosystem Functioning in a Diverse Marine Community. PLoS ONE 7:1-10.

Russonello, B., and Stewart. 1999. Review of Existing Public Opinion Data on Oceans. http://theoceanproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Review-of-Existing-Public-Opinion-Data-on-Oceans-1999.pdf.

Young, O. R. 2003. Taking Stock: MANAGEMENT PITFALLS IN FISHERIES SCIENCE. Environment 45:24.