Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Biological Sciences


Biological Sciences


Royden Nakamura



David E. Rasmussen

From 2004-2008 and 2008-2009 Cal Poly University researchers conducted two separate tag and recapture studies of nearshore fish populations along California’s central coast. Three locations were sampled that have experienced different degrees of fishing pressure. Big Creek MPA has been closed to all fishing from 1993 onwards and is the farthest from port of all locations. Cambria lies closest to port of the three locations and because of this has the highest fishing pressure. Piedras Blancas lies midway between Cambria and Big Creek. Portions of Cambria and Piedras Blancas were designated as MPAs in 2007. Sampling protocols of these two different studies differed in bait used and size of commercial fish trap. An experiment was conducted to simultaneously compare the different trapping and baiting protocols from the prior studies to find a conversion factor that related catch per unit effort (CPUE), length frequency distributions and captured fish diversity between the two studies, thus providing a means to connect the two data sets for stock assessments and baseline MPA monitoring.

Our sampling showed no significant difference in mean fish length or diversity between the two protocols for the five most common nearshore fish species captured, and three of the five species showed no significant difference in CPUE. Cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus), showed a significantly lower CPUE (50.5%) using the MLPA monitoring protocols compared to the commercial fishing protocol and black and yellow rockfish (Sebastes chrysomelas) had a significantly higher CPUE (310%) using the MLPA monitoring protocol. These findings provide a means of maintaining data continuity across the entire sample region and inclusion of earlier projects in the analyses of nearshore fish populations of the region.

With the linkage of these two studies we provide important baseline data for the Cambria MPA from before it was established in 2007. Fish populations were compared on a year-to-year basis within each location, and between the different locations. I found several main factors helped to explain differences in size and abundance across time within individual locations, and across the three locations. These factors were inherent differences in habitat, establishment of MPAs, and changes in fishing pressure and post-larval recruitment.

Cabezon were largest within Big Creek, followed by Piedras Blancas and Cambria which held the smallest fish, suggesting that fishing pressure is influencing fish size. However, cabezon were more abundant at Cambria than either other location suggesting that location is influencing abundance. Within Cambria, we are seeing an MPA effect with abundance within the MPA staying stable while the reference site is declining.

Gopher rockfish (Sebastes carnatus) and black and yellow rockfish had similar trends with size and abundance between locations. Big Creek and Piedras Blancas held the largest fish, while Cambria was smaller. Both rockfish species were most abundant at Big Creek, followed by Cambria then Piedras Blancas. Size for these species is likely influenced by fishing pressure, and abundance is likely influenced by both fishing pressure and location. Both species increased in abundance 2004-2009 at Cambria, and this could be due to improved levels of post-larval recruitment. There is also a possible MPA effect for gopher rockfish at Cambria with a near significant divergence in size of fish between the MPA and reference site.

Kelp greenling (Hexagrammos decagrammus) were similar in size and abundance between all sampling locations. There is a possible MPA effect at Cambria, with a significantly higher abundance than the reference site; however this difference predates the MPA’s establishment but could have been exacerbated by it.

Lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) size did not vary significantly between sites, but they were the most abundant at Cambria, followed by Piedras Blancas, then Big Creek, suggesting that habitat is influencing abundance. There was also a possible MPA effect on abundance of lingcod at Cambria with the MPA having a significantly higher abundance than the reference site. Similarly to the kelp greenling, these differences predated the MPA, but could have been exacerbated by its establishment, and abundance within the MPA has stayed stable, while the reference site was declining.

Big Creek and Piedras Blancas have similar Shannon-Weiner diversity values, while Cambria has significantly lower. However, after MPA establishment at Cambria, the MPA has attained significantly higher diversity levels than the reference site.

Over the short period of time that the Piedras Blancas and Cambria MPA have been established the populations within them have changed. However, there are no discernable trends in size, abundance and diversity between the MPA and reference sites at both locations. It is likely that with these slower growing, long-lived fish species that it will take more years for differences between the sites to manifest themselves.