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Karen Martin Influences California Fish and Game Commission to Pass New Regulations Protecting the California Grunion

In February 2022, the California Fish & Game Commission met and voted unanimously in favor of a petition to create new regulations that would further protect the California Grunion, a native endemic fish found only in California. These new regulations are the result of years of labor and research by thousands of members of the public, and, among the leaders, Karen Martin, distinguished professor emeritus of biology.

The California Grunion spawns on beaches in the middle of the night, coming onto the shore to lay eggs in what’s referred to as a “grunion run.” Prior to this decision by the commission, the protections in place were that fish could only be caught with bare hands, a fishing license was required for those over 16 years old, and April and May were a closed season. The regulations had not been changed for over 70 years despite the significant population change in California since the 1950s and the potential resulting impact on the grunion population. The new regulations include the addition of June to the closed season and a limit of 30 fish per person during the open season.

In the last decade, Martin and citizen scientists noticed that the runs seemed to be getting smaller. In response, Martin and two undergraduate students began a research project that led to a paper confirming that spawning runs were declining on beaches from San Diego to Santa Barbara. It was after the publication that Martin began pursuing better regulations for grunion hunting.

“The data that persuaded the California Fish & Game Commission to increase regulations were from the peer-reviewed scientific paper I co-authored with two undergraduate research students, Emily Pierce (‘16) and Vincent Quach (‘14),” Martin shares. “They analyzed data collected by citizen scientists, the Grunion Greeters, over two decades across the California Coast. This decision is a validation of the public's efforts to provide information that could not be obtained any other way.”

The new regulations passed that will further protect the California Grunion will go into effect this year.

“My hope is that the species will recover, will come back to its carrying capacity,” Martin shares. “My other hope is that people will appreciate just how enjoyable it is to go and watch the grunion run itself, without trying to catch them. Just seeing it as a natural phenomenon, like whale or bird watching, where you go and watch and get to say, ‘Wow, that’s really quite amazing.’”

To learn more about the California Grunion and Karen Martin’s work, visit Grunion.org.