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Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Conservation Biology CB - Ecosystem Science


California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment
The California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (CCIEA) is a joint project between staff at the NWFSC, SWFSC, NMML, ONMS, and WCRO to provide managers and policy makers with integrated science products in support of ecosystem-based management of marine resources. Key products include: conceptual models; ecosystem indicator suites, status and trend reports, and related analyses; risk assessments; and analyses of management scenarios in ecosystem models. Major clients include the Pacific Fishery Management Council, the West Coast Region, National Marine Sanctuaries along the West Coast, and the West Coast states.

Research Themes

Ecosystem approach to improve management of marine resources
The California Current Large Marine Ecosystem, Puget Sound and the Columbia River Basin are home to a wide range of freshwater and marine resources that provide a wealth of ecosystem goods and services. Ensuring the resiliency and productivity of the California Current and Pacific Northwest ecosystems requires an integrated understanding of their structure, function, and vulnerability to increased human population growth in coastal communities and competing uses of coastal waterways and oceans. The NWFSC‘s approach to understanding these large ecosystems integrates studies across ecosystems (terrestrial, freshwater, and marine) and scientific disciplines to inform resource managers responsible for conserving marine resources.

Research Foci

Assess ecosystem status and trends
Tracking the status of ecosystems across time and space is data intensive as it necessitates evaluating a broad range of trophic levels and environmental conditions from pre-European times to the present. Because ecosystems vary across space and time, the NWFSC must maintain a research focus on the design and implementation of monitoring programs that are capable of capturing this variability. Key research elements are the development and application of novel survey designs, the development of information rich metrics and indicators, and the development of novel spatiotemporal decision support models to facilitate the use of monitoring data in science based decision making. Long-term monitoring program design should be integrated with the development of ecosystem models and indicators to ensure that critical data are collected to support these efforts. An important management goal is the ability to quickly detect important changes in the state of ecosystems (e.g., presence of an invasive species) such that preventative actions can be taken as soon as possible; thus, key management questions and uncertainties should be identified as the structure of monitoring program design to facilitate the decision-making process. It is imperative that the NWFSC’s monitoring science strengths be applied to the design of ecosystem monitoring programs for species (e.g., salmon, rockfish) and ecosystems so that such programs are strategically designed to maximize useable information and minimize cost and effort.
Characterize ecological interactions (e.g. predation, competition, parasitism, disease, etc.) within and among species
Predator-prey interactions, inter- and intra-specific competition, and parasites and pathogens influence the survival, growth, and reproductive success of anadromous and marine fishes, marine mammals and other marine organisms. Moreover, anthropogenic stressors, such as pollution and fishing, can influence these interactions. Because of the complex nature of these interactions, addressing questions about ecological interactions will require novel field and laboratory studies and analyses. This includes ecosystem models, use of innovative technologies (e.g., otolith microchemistry and stable isotopes), integration of sample collection efforts with those of the Ocean Observing System entities on the west coast, and quantifying interactions among environmental stressors, species behavior and ecosystem processes.
Characterize the interaction between marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystem components
Although many species migrate between connected aquatic, marine, estuarine and freshwater environments they are commonly studied and managed as separate ecosystems. Environmental conditions in both marine and freshwater areas are strongly influenced by flows of water, sediment, organic matter and nutrients among ecosystems. Moreover, many threats (e.g., pollution, habitat loss, climate change, etc.) to marine organisms cross land-sea boundaries. Successful management of aquatic systems thus requires an understanding of linkages among ecosystems, including study of how specific habitats (e.g., headwaters, floodplains, submerged aquatic vegetation, nearshore zones, plumes and frontal regions) contribute to the productivity and capacity of ecosystems, and how to prioritize ecosystem protection or restoration within the context of the entire freshwater-estuarinemarine ecosystem.
Describe the interaction between human activities, particularly harvest of marine resources, and ecosystem function
Humans are an integral component of ecosystems. These ecosystems provide goods and services such as fish and seafood harvests, but these activities and others such as habitat alteration, pollution, and ocean acidification, can have strong impacts. Understanding the nature of these interactions will require observational and experimental studies aimed at identifying ecosystem-level responses to human activities, both individually and cumulatively, as well as human responses to ecosystem changes. Modeling spatial choices for harvesting and other human activities that are affected by ecosystem integrity, for example, can support a better understanding of the effects of ecosystembased management actions.
Provide scientific support for the implementation of ecosystem-based management
Fisheries scientists and managers recognize the potential for ecosystem-based management to improve sustain the delivery of ecosystem goods and services, including sustainable fisheries resources. An Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) is one approach that examines all available information on relevant physical, chemical, ecological and human processes in relation to specified ecosystem management objectives. IEAs provide an efficient, transparent means of summarizing the status of ecosystem components, screening and prioritizing potential risks, and evaluating alternative management strategies against a backdrop of environmental variability. To perform IEAs of major ecosystems will require development of project components, including new and existing data, to develop a suite of indicators that characterize the ecosystem. Careful assessment of ecosystem indicators will provide a powerful means for assessing management efficacy and a basis for adapting and improving management practices. A major focus will be to produce the initial IEA of the California Current LME and then provide annual updates.
Understand how climate influences ecosystem variability
Effective ecosystem management will require an understanding of how climate variability and climate change will alter riverine, estuarine, and marine habitats and consequently how this will affect ecosystem status, function and recovery. Key research elements include better understanding of historical ecological variability through traditional (i.e., indigenous) sources, exploring the vulnerability of key species and biotic communities to expected habitat changes, including decreasing stream flow, increased flood frequency, increasing stream temperature, sea level rise, ocean acidification, shifts in ocean currents, and changed frequency and extent of deoxygenated zones. A secondary goal is to improve understanding of how ecosystems respond to year-to-year and decadal climate variability. Achieving these research goals will provide NOAA and state and local governments with the knowledge and tools needed to incorporate climate change and variability into management of living marine resources.


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Andrew Shelton
Internal Collaborator
Bill Peterson
Internal Collaborator
Blake Feist
Internal Collaborator
Brian Burke
Internal Collaborator
Chris Harvey
Principal Investigator
Correigh Greene
Project Group Lead
Dan Holland
Internal Collaborator
Gregory Williams
Internal Collaborator
Isaac Kaplan
Project Group Lead
Jameal Samhouri
Project Group Lead
Jason Cope
Project Group Lead
Jennifer Fisher
Internal Collaborator
Karma Norman
Project Group Lead
Kelly Andrews
Project Group Lead
Mary Hunsicker
Internal Collaborator
Melissa Haltuch
Internal Collaborator
Melissa Poe
Internal Collaborator
Nick Tolimieri
Internal Collaborator
Richard Brodeur
Internal Collaborator
Thomas Good
Project Group Lead
Thomas Wainwright
Internal Collaborator
Vladlena Gertseva
Internal Collaborator