From the Editor: SoCal Commercial Fishing is in Crisis

Oil spill off Newport Beach, Calif.
An aerial view of the massive oil spill off Newport Beach, Calif. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Richard Brahm, U.S. Coast Guard District 11 PADET Los Angeles.

Before this summer, commercial fishing in Southern California was already at a disadvantage compared to other areas along the West Coast due to various factors.

But the massive oil spill off the coast of Orange County in early October, in addition to an acute backlog of dozens of container ships anchored near the Long Beach and Los Angeles seaports, may be helping put the SoCal commercial fishing industry in a state of crisis.

It truly doesn’t bode well for commercial fishing communities in Los Angeles and Orange counties if the fishing waters off the coast are soiled by thick globs of oil. Not to mention the fact that shipping lanes are so clogged that ultra-large container vessels have to drop anchor in and around those lanes several nautical miles before they arrive at their destination and park for days or weeks at a time before they’re allowed to berth.

The massive spill in early October occurred when a ruptured oil pipeline sent an estimated 130,000 to 140,000 gallons of crude into the ocean; among the consequences of this has been dead oily fish washing ashore at Orange County beaches.

Making matters worse, investigators looking into the matter suspect that the culprit behind the rupture may have been an anchor from a ship that was possibly settling in while waiting to enter the backlogged LA-Long Beach port complex.

Part of the reason for the backlog is an increase in consumer goods purchases. According to reports, container shipping traffic is up 50% from pre-pandemic levels, contributing to the LA-Long Beach bottleneck.

Together, the adjoining ports handle about 40% of goods imported into the U.S., data show.

Commercial fishing in the greater LA area had already been in a difficult position, due in part to the constant parade of container vessels traveling in and out of the ports and stringent regulations, but with the backlog, the oil spill and some COVID restrictions still in place, the South Coast region – which used to be known as the “Tuna Capital of the World” because of the plentiful amount of the fish in the area – is really suffering.

The current floating parking lot outside the San Pedro port complex is bad enough, but when you add in an oil spill that’s already caused massive damage to the ecological system and might not be fully cleaned up for months, then it’s yet another challenge for commercial fishing in the area.

Fishermen are in general tough, resilient people who are able to thrive while working in a very challenging environment. And hopefully, this latest crisis becomes just another hurdle that’s eventually overcome on the way to more prosperous and profitable times.

Managing Editor Mark Nero can be reached at