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Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures
small flat white fish with yellow fins held in open palms

Sharing Our Waters

Merit McCrea

After being introduced to fishing as a teenager in the 1970s, Merit McCrea was hooked. “Eating the fish you catch yourself, that foraging part of it, it gives me great value,” says McCrea, who would decide to make his living as a fisher.

For two decades, as the owner-operator of a charter boat operation, McCrea provided sanctuary visitors an opportunity to fish its abundant waters. However, responding to increased regulations on fisheries and anticipating the closure of 20 percent of the sanctuary to fishing, McCrea sold his boat in 2001 and decided to fulfill his dream of returning to school. (He would later earn a degree in aquatic biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he now works as a biologist for the university’s Marine Science Institute.)

“The perception then of a lot of clients was that the sanctuary was not open for fishing,” he says. “So, in some ways, I think you could say I was forced out because of the regulatory climate.”

With fewer charters and open-party fishing boats servicing the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, McCrea fears stricter regulations are turning sports fishing in the area into a “rich person’s sport.”

“The opportunity for the average guy is diminishing,” he says. “The two classes of anglers you see out there today are either very rich, with their own equipment, or serious specialists who dedicate and spend every penny of their recreation budget on fishing. So losing that access is very sad to me.”