MORRO BAY, Calif. -

A new project, the first of its kind on the West Coast,  just started this summer in Morro Bay, giving the community rights to its own fisheries.

The Morro Bay Community Fishing Quota Fund is working to keep fishing rights local, the idea is to give small scale fishermen an equal playing field with big-time operators.

The  non-profit organization in charge of the quota requires fishermen to use best practices when it comes to sustainability and the environment.

Robert Seitz is the first fishermen to lease quota from the non-profit. This week he’s fished around 12,000 pounds of fish on a boat he now owns.

Seitz is the owner of South Bay Wild,  a family operated business, he takes pride in sustainably caught wild seafood in Morro Bay.

Seitz said “Without access to affordable quota I wouldn't be able to afford the boat payment.”

He  learned the ropes of the fishing business from his grandfather while growing up in Alaska.      

The Nature Conservancy  closed  its first sale of fishing rights to the community in Morro Bay

Michael Bell with the Nature Conservancy said, “We're creating a connection between the community and the ocean resource this community depends on.”

Local fisherman lease fishing rights or quotas that have traditionally been tied to individual fishing boats,  and usually go to big operations because they are expensive.

Seitz said, “It's very hard for upcoming fishermen to get ownership in their fisheries.”

A quota is the right to catch a designated amount of a species in a geographic area  and Seitz can now afford to lease those rights from the Morro Bay Community Quota Fund. Leasing a quota means the fishermen pay lease for each pound of fish they catch, and that means more profit when they sell the fish.

Seitz said, “It gives me ownership in something I’ve done my whole life, I have the ability to make choices now on how I want to pursue my business.”

Without the quota fund, Seitz said, “I would still be running somebody else’s boat for them.”

The Morro Bay Community Quota Fund is made up of local fishermen, scientists and community leaders.

Local fishermen who fish sustainably will have first rights to this new fund.

From Rep. Lois Capps:

“Community-based partnerships like the Morro Bay Community Quota Fund support fisheries that are economically and ecologically sustainable. The Central Coast has a long history of taking a collaborative approach to these challenging issues, and I am proud of our community’s active role in protecting our ocean’s resources while supporting our fishermen. We must continue to support and empower partnerships like the Morro Bay Community Quota Fund, which will serve as an example of creative, solution-focused problem solving to other coastal communities.”