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  • Dependence, Vulnerability and Well-being of fishers and fishing communities in the California Current Ecosystem


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


Dependence, Vulnerability and Well-being of fishers and fishing communities in the California Current Ecosystem
This research provides a quantitative means of determining which communities in West Coast coastal counties are most connected to fishing, both commercial and recreational fishing, and allows for a quantitative approach to concepts like community “engagement” and “dependence” on fishing as well as social vulnerability. The project employs a methodology that incorporates a diverse range of secondary data and proxy measures of human community attributes with the aim of considering multiple social and ecological community dimensions simultaneously. We analyze demographic, economic, geographic, meteorological, quality of life and fisheries-specific data for all coastal communities at the U.S. census-designated place (CDP) level in Washington, Oregon and California. A factor analysis approach to these data allows us to examine relative similarities among variables for a set of proposed indices of community vulnerability and connections to fishing, and allows us to compare communities relative to one another for each measure. Social vulnerability and fishing dependence composite scores are available for multiple years, and this is a multi-year project developed, carried out and updated each year in coordination with all NMFS fishery management regions. These community-level analyses are complemented with data collection and analysis of social and economic well-being of fishing vessel owners, collected via a coast-wide survey of active West Coast commercial fishery participants. We will implement the coast-wide survey of fishing vessel owners at regular intervals, having conducted surveys in 2017 and 2020, providing us with longitudinal data and indicators that can be paired with our broader community indicators.

Data Sets

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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 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.


human dimensions
Includes data important to the socioeconomics of a given fishery or ecosystem component.


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Dan Holland
Internal Collaborator
Karma Norman
Principal Investigator