By going fishing and viewing marine life, 100,000 youth experience the ocean’s wonders

Winter 2015

On a sunny January morning, 30 eager youth headed to Fisherman’s Landing in San Diego, California for the experience of a lifetime. The children, some of them homeless, boarded the 85-ft. long Dolphin to spend the day fishing and viewing marine life—something few had ever dreamt of.

With rods, reels, hooks, and sinkers waiting, the children were greeted at the dock by volunteers, including staff from NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Friends of Rollo, a non-profit organization that introduces disadvantaged children to fishing.

Eager kids line the rail on the Dolphin, with ample volunteers to help fish and point out marine life. Photo: Liana Heberer

For 16 years Friends of Rollo has taken at-risk, disabled, and low-income youth out to sea. The organization was founded in memory of Captain James “Rollo” Heyn, who died at sea in 1999.  Its goal is to give children, who may not otherwise have an opportunity, the chance to visit the ocean and see some of the diverse marine life it supports. Friends of Rollo also provides a strong mentoring component. The program introduces youth to people who make their living on the ocean, in fields such as fishing, marine biology, tourism, and the seafood industry, in hopes the adolescents pursue a related field of work.

“We want to create an experience for kids that changes their lives,” said Jim Holden, Friends of Rollo’s Executive Director. “So many of us grew up fishing. It’s part of our childhood, but these children have not had the same opportunities. We want them to experience dolphins swimming in the bow’s wake, whales breaching, and what it’s really like to reel in a fish.”

Among the children boarding the vessel this January was the 100,000th child to benefit from the program. “This is a remarkable milestone for Friends of Rollo,” said Holden. “It’s unbelievable the difference the program has made in the lives of so many.”   

Lending a hand to a participant. Photo: Liana Heberer

Part of the program’s objective is to teach youth about marine science. Aboard the vessel, NOAA Fisheries’ Recreational Fisheries Coordinator, Craig Heberer, explained how the agency conducts surveys to assess how many fish are in the sea and how fisheries managers use this information to provide sustainable fishing opportunities for recreational and commercial fishermen.

In addition, Heberer and Holden showcased best practices for catching fish and releasing those they’re not intending to hook with minimal harm. “Safely releasing a fish after it’s caught takes more care and practice than some anglers think,” explained Heberer. “You can’t simply toss a fish back in the water after you unhook it because many fish released this way may later die.”

Improving a fish’s odds of surviving requires the right gear and techniques. Proper release includes practices such as unhooking fish in the water or on board with wet hands; limiting handling time; and, in the case of rockfish, using descender devices to safely return fish to the ocean floor. Practicing these catch and release techniques, among others, contributes to being an ethical angler—someone who follows these stewardship practices and abides by the regulations to help conserve the resource.

“I believe it’s important to instill in kids appreciation and respect for these marine resources,” noted Heberer. “We’re teaching them to be good stewards by showcasing the research-based best practices that support responsible angling.”

This milestone trip was particularly exciting, as the children reeled in a colorful collection of southern California game fish, including several species of rockfish, lingcod, calico bass, bonito, and mackerel. The volunteers went to great lengths to make sure everyone caught at least one fish and walked away with a few sound fishing tips. The children also received a generous goodie bag loaded with fishing related products. As the youth disembarked the vessel that day, their smiling faces were a testament to day filled with amazement and memories.

Congratulations to the Friends of Rollo Program and the hard working volunteers who have now served 100,000 youth.

LEARN MORE about Friends of Rollo…

RECREATIONAL FISHERIES on the West Coast…

CATCH & RELEASE Techniques…

LEARN MORE about rockfish & descending devices…

ETHICAL ANGLING 101…

Home page and all story photos by Liana Heberer