Planning for uncertainty in a changing world

As another Sea Grant fellow pointed out, a whole lot has changed since our last blog posts. The world seems to have turned upside down in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Our everyday lives have shifted dramatically, and many of us are struggling with a deep sense of uncertainty for what is to come. This pandemic has put a spotlight on our national (as well as personal and global) need to improve flexibility, planning, and response times in the face of current and future change.  On both large and small scales, we are asking ourselves how we can best cope with the crisis at hand, and how we can better prepare for inevitable future surprises. On the bright side, this tumultuous time has created space for us assess our societal, personal and professional priorities as we move forward. In particular, many of us are looking for tools to increase our resilience and adaptive capacity as time goes on.   

Although completely unrelated to Covid-19, the members of the Oregon Marine Team at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have been asking similar questions for almost a year, but in the context of fisheries. The team has been examining uncertainty through a process known as Scenario Planning, focused on the future of West Coast fishing, management, and the communities that rely on that industry. 

Scenario planning is a tool that was first created by the US military during World War II, later modified for use by the oil industry, and more recently been applied to a wide array of business and agency contexts, including the stock market and natural resource management. In essence, this method explores what may happen under different sequences events by helping managers and decision makers develop strategies to meet uncertainty. Under the direction of a consultant, TNC is collaborating with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) ( on a multi-phase Scenario Planning process that examines climate change scenarios and related impacts on fisheries along the California Current System (CCS).  

The process includes 5 distinct steps: “Establish, research, create, validate and apply”. The “create” phase involves a scenario planning workshop, which took place in January 2020 in Orange County, California.  The workshop brought together upwards of 80 West Coast fishermen, managers, tribal members and scientists for an interactive brainstorming session that examined a central question: How will climate change impact West Coast species and coastal communities over the next 20 years (PFMC 2020)? By the end of the workshop, participants had successfully created a set of narratives (or scenarios) describing what the marine environment may look like in 2040. Since then, these scenarios have been refined and results will be ground-truthed and further researched over the coming months. (If you’re interested, click here for detailed information on the January workshop.)

As the PFMC process continues, The Nature Conservancy has launched another Scenario Planning initiative, this one with the state-managed Dungeness Crab fishery in Oregon. While Covid-19 related complications have delayed the process, we are deep into the planning process and we are remaining flexible in regards to timing as we plan our next steps.

There are a number of reasons why TNC is focusing their efforts on scenario planning for the Dungeness crab fishery:

  • The fishery is important to coastal economies: In most years, Dungeness crab is the most economically important single species fishery in Oregon and across the entire US West Coast (Rasmuson 2013; Lee & O’Malley 2019).
  • Dungeness crab stocks are projected to be impacted by a series of climate change components over coming decades, including marine heat waves (remember the ‘warm blob’), Hypoxia and Ocean Acidification (OA), and Sea Level Rise.
  • In addition, the fishery itself will likely be impacted by increasing harmful algal blooms (HABs) containing toxic diatoms like domoic acid (DA), as well as whale entanglements.

These factors of change point to a significant access reduction to the fishery in coming decades, which may create ripple effects across cultural and socio-economic aspects of Oregon’s fishing communities. Over the coming year, TNC will utilize existing data, and gather knowledge from fishermen, managers, scientists and community members, to develop scenarios for fishing communities 20-50 years from now. The goal of this process is to contribute to future planning and decision-making abilities in coastal communities, in management and in the fishing industry itself (Borggaard et al 2019; Peterson et al 2003). 

Like many of us in the environmental sciences, I’m keenly aware of how climate change components are creeping into local, regional and global systems, and I am awaiting more dramatic shifts in my lifetime. Even so, the projected state of our planet in 20, 50 or 100 years remains abstract in my mind because of my limited scope of direct experience. Although COVID-19 may not be related to climate change, both pandemics and climate change have been intricately studied, and experts openly share concerns of issues to come. Our global response to Covid-19 spotlights how ill prepared we are for the abstract, but inevitable. For me, this pandemic has cemented the importance of tools like scenario planning to better prepare for our future.


Borggaard, D & Dick, D & Alexander, M & Bernier, M & Collins, M & Dudley, R & Griffis, R & Hayes, S & Johnson, M & Kircheis, D & Kocik, J & Morrison, W & Saunders, R & Sheehan, T & Saba, Vincent. (2019). Atlantic salmon climate scenario planning pilot report. 10.13140/RG.2.2.20713.85604.

Lee, E and O’Malley, K (2020) Big Fishery, Big Data, and Little Crabs: Using genomic methods to examine the seasonal recruitment patterns of early life stage Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) in the California Current Ecosystem. Frontiers in Marine Science. Doi. 10.3389/fmars.2019.00836

Peterson, G., Cumming, G., Carpenter, S. (2003) Scenario Planning: A tool for conservation in an uncertain world. Conservation Biology. Vol. 17, No. 2.

Pacific Fishery Management Council (2020) Follow up from a workshop co-sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and the Pacific Fishery Management Council in support of the Fishery Ecosystem Plan Climate and Communities initiative.

Rasmuson L (2013) The biology, ecology and fishery of the Dungeness crab, Cancer magister. Adv Mar Biol 65:95–148

Working through a pandemic

Times have certainly changed since my last blog post. With all of the COVID-19 health measures in place, the agency I work for (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife [ODFW]) has moved to primarily telecommuting. For me, this isn’t a huge difference since I was already working mostly remotely and have developed a routine to maintain productivity and minimize distractions throughout the day. However, I imagine that it is quite a big change for most of my coworkers that are used to working in the Newport office.

One measure my team, the Marine Reserves Program, has taken to ensure connectivity during these social distancing times is weekly virtual meetings. We start the meeting by each sharing a tip we have learned to improve this isolating experience or a suggestion we’ve heard for how to help out our community during this difficult time. Given the active nature of my team, tips often include taking the dogs on long early morning walks, setting up virtual exercise classes with friends, and making time for lunchtime yoga to keep routine and movement in your day. Suggestions for helping the community include purchasing food from local businesses and getting involved with volunteering where possible (e.g. helping distribute meals or groceries to those unable to leave their house).

Starting our weekly meetings on a positive, team-focused note makes me look forward to these Wednesday afternoon get-togethers. We’ve even started adding in silly components to distract from the seriousness of the real world and allow for us all to have a laugh. Last week we donned silly hats for our meeting, which allowed me to see my boss (Tommy) wearing his daughter’s bunny ear beanie with wire cat ears on top. Quite a sight!

While these meetings are used to keep us informed of any ODFW COVID-related changes, their primary purpose is really to keep our team connected. During this time of social isolation, staying intentionally connected is more important than ever for our mental health. I feel very lucky to be part of a team that takes the time to check in with their coworkers in both a personal and professional manner.

Dungeness crab: An Oregon coast icon

As I was getting ready to write this blog entry, I decided to look back at some of my old posts to see what I’ve covered so far. I’ve written about the Dungeness crab management system, current issues facing the fishery, and the commercial fishery season opening process. On multiple occasions, I have emphasized the ecological and economic importance of crab, and the complexities of West Coast crab management. But I realized that my previous posts do nothing to highlight some of the aspects of Dungeness crab that I find the most important and interesting, the long history of cultural and social significance of this crustacean in Oregon and along the West Coast.

In my last post, I wrote that “Every December, palpable excitement fills the Oregon coast as residents anticipate the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab season. To many on the coast, Dungeness crab is at the center of holiday and family celebrations at this time of year.” In fact, this excitement continues well beyond the start of the season and throughout the year.

Visitors to the coast will quickly realize that the seafood industry and working waterfronts are an integral part of Oregon coastal communities that serve to sustain local cultural heritage and connect the community to the environment (Kellner, 2009). The crab industry, in particular, is on display in many Oregon port cities contributing to the popularity of these locations for tourists that are looking for an authentic glimpse at the history and character of the community.

The critical symbolic importance of Dungeness crab to coastal tribes, fishers, consumers, and environmentalists can be seen through the diversity of social and cultural activities that center on the species. For many, recreational crabbing is considered a must-do activity that features heavily in Oregon travel guides, tour packages, and has even been described in several how-to guidebooks dedicated solely to the sport. Additionally, all along the coast and throughout much of Oregon, crab is featured heavily at seafood festivals, crab feeds, and other community events.

While digging into the history of Oregon coast crab feeds and festivals, one of my favorite pieces of Newport history that I found was a collection of photos from the Lincoln County Historical Society’s archive of the Newport Crab Festival which first took place in 1938. In its day, this festival would draw 25,000 visitors to Newport for a free crab lunch and other festivities including a festival court, parade, and prizes (Russell, 2013). This event, the precursor to the present-day Newport Seafood & Wine Festival, is an example of the long history of coupling the abundance of crab on the coast with a desire for community support and coastal tourism.

The iconic status of Dungeness crab which has been known to many throughout history, was formally recognized on June 19, 2009 when Dungeness crab joined the Chinook salmon, Douglas fir, and American beaver as a state symbol of Oregon. With the strong support of fourth graders from Sunset Primary School in West Linn, House Joint Resolution 37 was passed designating Dungeness crab as the official crustacean of the State of Oregon (Oregon Legislative Assembly, 2009). Among other factors, the resolution recognizes the economic value, symbolic importance, sustainable management, and overall deliciousness of Dungeness crab.

It’s exciting getting to live in a community that is so closely tied to Dungeness crab, while working to address some of the issues that are critical for the fishery. In my next post, I will dive deeper into the whale entanglement issue and the steps being taken in Oregon and along the West Coast to address this challenge!


Keller, A. A., Simon, V., Chan, F., Wakefield, W. W., Clarke, M. E., Barth, J. A. Kamikawa, D. et al. 2010. Demersal fish and invertebrate biomass in relation to an offshore hypoxic zone along the US West Coast. Fisheries Oceanography, 19(1): 76–87.

Oregon Legislative Assembly. 2009. 75th Oregon Legislative Assembly 2009 summary of legislation. Legislative Administration Committee Services, 214 pp. Available at

Russell, V. 2013. A looking back at the Newport Crab Festival 1949. Coast Explorer Magazine. Available at


Hi everyone! My name is Keiko Nomura and I am currently a second-year Master’s student studying Marine Resource Management at Oregon State University. I am a Malouf Scholar this year, and my thesis research focuses on understanding the resilience of fisheries to environmental change. For my first blog post, I want to introduce myself, my path here, and a bit about my work.

I grew up in Southern California, where I was lucky enough to be able to take occasional day trips to the beach. This is definitely where my love for the ocean originated. However, I also remember noticing how people changed the natural environment around them: housing developments, pollution, even habitat restorations both intrigued and bothered me. I became profoundly curious about the interactions between people and their environment, particularly the ocean.

As an undergraduate, I pursued this curiosity by working in marine ecology and toxicology labs focused on anthropogenic impacts to coastal organisms. These early research experiences affirmed my passions for marine science. However, I started to become interested in more interdisciplinary, policy-relevant research questions. Around this time, I studied abroad in Costa Rica taking a class on ecotourism. This time spent abroad broadened both my personal and professional perspectives. I witnessed many impressive conservation and sustainability initiatives. But I also saw the jarring realities of current unsustainable practices – disturbed sea turtle populations, overflowing landfills, displaced fishermen. Each of these issues, and success stories, was more complex than I originally thought, and the important interrelatedness of social, ecological, and economic elements in overall sustainability became abundantly clear to me. I returned home with a newfound drive to seek out broader research perspectives and integrative solutions to marine issues.

Soon thereafter, I discovered the fields of marine spatial planning and policy through an NSF REU internship. I instantly became hooked. It was exactly what I was looking for, and my sights were set for pursuing this sort of work in graduate school. Before entering my current graduate program, I worked in several informal environmental education jobs. I learned to engage with people of all ages about ocean topics ranging from tidepool ecology and oyster restorations to marine protected areas and climate change. After working as an educator, I knew I somehow had to incorporate science outreach into my future research career.

All of this has led me to where I am today at the Marine Resource Management program.  My thesis work focuses on the resilience of fishing communities to environmental change. Global oceans are changing in unprecedented ways. People and society are going to need to respond accordingly to maintain human well-being and healthy ocean ecosystem services. Fishing is one such activity that can help bolster food security and local economies. But changing ocean conditions may alter the health and distributions of fish populations, resulting in fishery closures or delayed starts. Career fishermen and seafood processors in these circumstances therefore have to deal with less work and income. My project seeks to answer the question: When fishermen cannot catch what they normally catch, what do they do? Some options include increasing their fishing effort, fishing for a different species, or, in some cases, leaving fishing altogether. Throughout my time in my graduate program, I have worked on developing methods for assessing the resilience of small-scale fisheries in Baja, Mexico, by using fisheries logbooks and environmental data. I also will create an infographic to communicate these results. Moving forward, I will apply these methods to study the resilience of commercial fisheries along the U.S. West Coast, particularly in Oregon and Washington. I look forward to making progress with these projects and reporting back to share with you all!

It’s been a fantastic year working with Oregon Sea Grant!

I have a lifelong connection to the Oregon Coast. Three generations of my family traveled each year to vacation near Waldport, and as an adult, I traveled multiple times each year to spend time on both the north and central coast of Oregon. As I began my fellowship with Oregon Sea Grant, my overall goal was to have the opportunity to apply my skills in research, outreach, and expanding collaborative partnerships, in ways that will help protect and enhance coastal environments and associated human economic and social systems in Oregon. I am happy to say that all of the projects that I worked on in 2018-2019, not only gave me this opportunity, but also enriched my academic and professional experience in ways that are immeasurable.

In November 2018, I began an Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellowship, where I supported the Chair of the Coastal Caucus and members of the Caucus by monitoring, researching, and reporting on legislation and legislative issues affecting marine resources and communities along the Oregon Coast. In that role, I also served as a resource for external communications with state agencies, coastal constituents and other key stakeholder groups.

In 2019, I began work as an Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resource Policy Fellow, where I focused on projects with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Oregon State Marine Board (OSMB), Oregon Sea Grant (OSG), and other partners. In this collaborative environment, I helped to develop project scopes and plans, implemented research, and communicate findings on several (new to me) areas of interest. My research projects ranged from understanding the use of copper in anti-fouling boat paint and potential aquatic impacts in both freshwater and marine environments; the role of synthetic fibers and the pathways of fibers in local and nearshore aquatic systems; the development of marine invasive species outreach materials for marina and boatyard operators; to a GIS project that helped to identify potential contamination point-sources to existing water systems (e.g., aquifers, WWTPs and outflows, well fields and surface drinking water systems). Last, but not least, one of my most rewarding projects was assisting with the coordination, development, and implementation of various administrative and mentorship aspects for students participating in the 2019 Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience (OASE) program.

In addition to vastly expanding my knowledge and experience in areas outside of my initial scope of expertise (ie. copper in anti-fouling boat paint, aquatic impacts of copper toxicity, scope of microfibers (plastics) in nearshore and marine environments, impacts of novel marine invasive species, etc.), my fellowship helped me to develop new skills in informal and formal communications; sharing complex and technical information to a varied audience; exploring impacts and implementation strategies for state agencies when researching and applying laws, rules, and regulations; and, understanding that political aptitude is a vital component to the successful completion of environmental projects.

As a member of the Community of Practice Oregon Sea Grant group, I look forward to continuing my personal and professional relationships with other OSG Fellows, Scholars, and grant recipients, and I will always be thankful for my experiences as an Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resource Policy Fellow.

My Journey to Grad School “Part II”

Hello and happy new year! My name is Brittany King and I am a third year PhD candidate, in the department of fisheries and wildlife at Oregon State University. My dissertation research focuses on underrepresentation of racial and ethnic groups in marine and fisheries related science professions. My first quarter as a Malouf Scholar has been full of data collection, in the form of semi-structured interviews with participants, in marine and fisheries related fields, across different racial and ethnic backgrounds and career levels. My interviews typically start out with me asking my participants to describe their career journey, which I thought would be an appropriate prompt for me to introduce myself in this blog…so here it goes!


Can you describe your career journey thus far?

Brittany King: Growing up, I always lived near water. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area but often took The Bay for granted. At an early age, it was hard to see more than just water, but that all changed in middle school. In my 8th grade science class, I saw a picture of a scuba diver with an organism in her hand and below it said she was a marine biologist. Until then, I had never heard of a marine biologist. but that day I went home and told my mom that I wanted to become one, not knowing anything about the occupation except that they studied a world that was so close and yet so far from my understanding.

For college, I attended Hampton University, a historically black college, which gave me the opportunity to meet amazing people, who also wanted to learn more about the marine environment. During my time at Hampton I participated in various research projects and experiences. One of my greatest experiences occurred while volunteering at the Virginia Aquarium. Through an after-school outreach program called Mentoring Young Scientists, I mentored a group of middle school students, and helped them to develop yearlong coastal trends projects. At the conclusion of each year, the students presented their projects to the public at the aquarium’s coastal trends weekend. Seeing each week how excited the students were to learn about marine habitats and their effects on them, helped me develop an interest in how coastal communities’ impact coastal habitats, and the importance of community outreach and education. 

Looking back on my time as an undergrad, I realize now that many of my experiences during that time have played a significant role in my career decisions and my current research interest. In addition to sparking an interest in community outreach, it influenced my current interest in underrepresentation. While at Hampton I was exposed to people from a variety of backgrounds, all interested in marine and environmental science. However, outside of my Hampton bubble, as a person of color entering the marine and environmental science professional space, it was hard to ignore the lack of diversity.

The first time it really hit me was when I started my master’s program, which I often refer to as grad school “Part I,” at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. To this day, I still have a vivid memory of walking into the courtyard for orientation, scanning the group of students and realizing that of the 70+ students in my cohort, I was the only African American. This trend continued after graduating from UC Santa Barbara, when I spent a year as a 2013 Knauss Fellow, and again, of the 50 fellows selected that year, I was the only African American. Both of these experiences resulted in me developing s strong interest in underrepresentation in marine, fisheries and environmental science related fields.

After the Knauss fellowship and prior to returning to graduate school “Part II” at OSU, I stepped out of the marine and fisheries science realm and worked as a community organizer. During this time, I was able to reevaluate my career decisions and aspirations before finding my current position in the F&W human dimension lab at OSU. The lack of diversity throughout my early career journey, coupled with my desire to pursue a career related to marine and fisheries science, has led to my current interests and dissertation research. I believe that to better understand how to recruit and retain individuals from underrepresented communities, it is important to examine the factors that influence individuals to pursue and persist in careers in marine and fisheries science professions, while identifying whether any of these key factors are unique to individuals from underrepresented populations.


I’ve spent the past year interviewing people with a focus on how their experiences and social identities have influenced their career decisions and career experiences. As the interview portion of my research wraps up in the winter quarter, I’m looking forward to taking a deeper dive into the data.

Stay tuned!

Seasons in the Ocean

How are ocean and terrestrial seasons different?

Humans are land-loving creatures and we intuitively understand that seasons are times of change; these transitions are often signaled by cues like day length or temperature. Organisms use seasonal cues like these to time events in their life cycle that maximize survival, growth, and successful reproduction. The timing of life cycle events to coincide with seasonal environmental factors is called phenology. For example, many insects, birds, and small mammals reproduce in the spring to maximize the number of warm months to grow and accumulate resources before a harsh, cold winter. We also see several examples of insect species that have co-evolved with plant species, such that insect larvae are born in synchrony with plant prey species is present or blooming.

In the ocean, we see several similar phenological patterns though the seasonal cues can be different. Most marine organisms have complex life cycles, where nearshore, bottom-associated adults spawn very small, dispersive larvae that feed in the water column for days to months before returning to the nearshore to settle, grow, and reproduce. Many fish and invertebrate species time their reproductive events such that their larvae are feeding in prey-rich conditions. Marine larvae are small organisms, often less than 10mm in length, and so they feed on very small prey items, such as phytoplankton and zooplankton (microscopic drifting plant and animal organisms). Similar to plants on land, many phytoplankton species bloom in the springtime, when day length increases and sunlight penetrates deep into the ocean. Zooplankton populations grow when there is an abundance of the phytoplankton they feed on, and fish and invertebrate larvae populations boom in response. Sunlight and food web cues play a large role in determining the phenology of marine organisms.

It is also necessary to consider that marine organisms exist in a dynamic fluid environment. Wind, currents, tide, and coastline features are all important in determining patterns of water movement in any given area. Because marine larvae are very small, they often travel or disperse with the dominant pattern of regional water movement. Many fish species are thought to time their reproduction not only according to sun-related cues, but also to water movement-related cues such that their larvae are retained in areas with favorable habitat (e.g. a nearshore rocky reef or kelp bed). Additionally, ocean conditions change dramatically along the coastline. For example, prevailing wind patterns in northern California are drastically different from wind patterns in central and northern Oregon, resulting in an abrupt change in nutrient input, phytoplankton productivity, and water movement patterns – all cues that marine organisms are tuned in to! Understanding phenology in the ocean requires an understanding of seasonality in the food web, seasonality in water movement patterns, and how these patterns are variable in space.

My dissertation research focuses on phenology of marine fish life cycles.

A major part of my dissertation research focuses on better understanding the phenology of marine fish life cycles. I study the most vulnerable life stages of the fish life cycle (larvae and juveniles, which are known to experience very high mortality rates) to better understand how food web interactions and water circulation patterns are different along the Oregon coast and throughout the year. My ultimate goal is to use the information I gain from my research to improve predictions about the future status of fish populations, especially as ocean conditions are changing.  

As a student of the ocean, my schedule aligns with ocean seasons.

As I reflect on the importance of ocean seasons on the lives of marine fishes, my study organisms, I realize that as a student of marine science I also depend on ocean seasons. In Oregon, the April-September months are marked by a transition to nutrient and phytoplankton rich waters (known as upwelling) and many larval and juvenile fish species are present in the nearshore waters. After September, the ocean transitions in to a relatively nutrient and phytoplankton poor state (known as downwelling) that lasts until the following April. The winter months also have larger storms, night tides, and less sunlight, making field work and sampling more difficult. These seasons are reflected in my work student as well: from April-September, I spend most of my time collecting samples, going on oceanographic research cruises, and organizing a team of dedicated undergraduates to conduct field work. By the time October comes around, most of my activities are land and office-based. This is a welcome change of pace after a busy summer season. This fall quarter was a special time for me because I passed my oral exams! This marks the completion of most of my coursework and the last major checkpoint in my program before my dissertation defense. As we transition into the winter term, I’m very excited to present other parts of my dissertation work to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Reserves Program, and at an international conference in Japan. I’m also looking forward to teaching an introductory biology lab course, expanding my outreach opportunities, and preparing for another summer of field work!

2019 reflections

I am completing final edits for this blog posting on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, a time when many of us reflect upon our last 12 months and gear up for the next dozen. For me, 2019 brought some pretty big changes; including (but not limited to) a Master’s degree, a few moves and a Sea Grant fellowship. In honor of this day, my first blog post will be a reflection on my work as a student and fellow over this past year.

In the spring of 2019, I successfully defended my thesis and graduated from the Oregon State University Marine Resource Management (MRM) MS program. My graduate work focused on how shifts in human, regulatory and natural systems create ripple effects across stakeholders and coastal communities here on the West Coast. After my defense I took a few months of well-deserved soul searching, then began my position as an Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resource Policy Fellow at the Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Portland! This is an organization that I’ve admired since my undergraduate days in Arizona, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to spend a year here!

The mission of the Nature Conservancy is to “conserve the lands and waters upon which all life depends.” The Oregon chapter upholds this mission throughout many layers of terrestrial, aquatic and marine conservation work. TNC uses strategies like direct action, policy and community involvement to conduct a range of projects including acquiring land easements, stewardship programs, involvement in state and federal decision making, water monitoring, and planning for climate change impacts. 

Here at the Portland office I work closely with the “Marine Team”, a group of creative, experienced and well connected individuals who approach marine, coastal and fishery-related challenges from a diverse set of perspectives.

The way that I was introduced to this team and their scope of work was a huge highlight of my fellowship thus far: My first two days as a fellow were spent on a “field trip” alongside various coworkers, exploring marine and coastal TNC projects along the Northern and Central Oregon Coast. Under the guidance of project leaders, we explored wetland restoration sites and preserves before boarding a recreational crabbing charter in Newport and trying our hands at pot fishing. While onboard, my supervisor and Brittany (another Sea Grant fellow) briefed the group on TNC’s involvement with the Dungeness crab fishery. Our trip ended with a lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in Newport, Local Ocean, run by a fellow MRM graduate and board member at TNC. This trip offered a perfect introduction to the Nature Conservancy as an organization, who I would be working with, and the projects they are engaged in- all before I had even stepped into the office!

Since that initial “field trip” my work has been largely office-based. I have been able to hit the ground running with a handful of projects that (luckily for me!) relate to, and build upon my graduate work. At the moment, most of my time is devoted to TNC’s involvement with the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (PFMC) Climate and Communities Initiative. Under this umbrella, I work closely with two teams; a climate-change scenario planning team focused on federal fisheries and a West Coast fishing community vulnerability assessment team. My day-to-day tasks range from conducting literature reviews, to phone interviews, coding qualitative data, assembling white papers and engaging in collaborative brainstorming efforts. 

Over the coming months I will be continuing work with the Climate and Communities initiative, and digging my teeth into state-based projects including scenario planning for the Oregon Dungeness crab fishery, and spatial planning work related to the Oregon Marine Reserves. Stay tuned as I continue to share my progress and experiences through blog posts. See you in 2020!

Oregon’s Marine Reserves: Science snapshots StoryMap

As 2019 draws to a close, it is time for me to reflect on my year as an Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resource Policy Fellow – and it’s time for me to post my farewell blog! My year assisting the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) to the Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC) has been an amazing opportunity, and I hope that my efforts to assist STAC as they prepare for the upcoming 2023 Marine Reserves assessment will benefit all Oregonians as the process moves forward.

As a fellow, I also had the opportunity to engage in science communication activities like blogging. Instead of my usual blog, I decided to take this opportunity to highlight some of the scientific research I learned about this year in the form of a StoryMap. It would be impossible for me to do justice to all the research that’s happening at Oregon’s five marine reserves, but I attempted to highlight these things I know:

  • cool science is happening
  • science requires creative and collaborative approaches
  • research projects happening in marine reserves are helping to broaden our understanding of Oregon’s nearshore

I can also say the following with confidence: science communication is hard work! I really appreciate all the scientists who agreed to be featured, and I also truly appreciate input and photographs provided by ODFW’s Marine Reserves Program. Any mistakes are mine. Effective scicommers are awesome. While I’m not including myself in the effective scicommers category, I hope that you enjoy my first StoryMap and learn a little about Oregon’s marine reserves in the process.

Holiday crab: The start of the ocean commercial crab season in Oregon

Every December, palpable excitement fills the Oregon coast as residents anticipate the opening of the commercial Dungeness crab season. To many on the coast, Dungeness crab is at the center of holiday and family celebrations at this time of year. As crabbers prepare their vessels and gear, fishery managers coordinate with various partners to ensure that a safe, quality product is available to consumers and that access to Dungeness crab is orderly and equitable.

Like other crustaceans, Dungeness crab grow by periodically shedding a chitinous exoskeleton through a process called molting. As adults, crab molt at most once per year, leaving them in a vulnerable post-molt or softshell condition which lasts for approximately two months as the new shell hardens and fills with tissue (Rasmuson, 2013). Ocean commercial crab season regulations are designed to provide some measure of protection during the time of year when molting typically occurs as softshell crab are more susceptible to injury or mortality from handling. By restricting harvest of poor condition crab, handling impacts are reduced and a higher meat yield can be obtained by targeting crab in a hardshell condition (PFMC, 1979).

The first seasonal closure was established in 1948 using crab condition criteria based on shell hardness sampling (Waldron, 1958). Since this time, the determination of open seasons has been a topic of debate due largely to variability in coastwide molting patterns, harvest fluctuations, and socioeconomic considerations. A coastwide season opening date of December 1 and closing date no later than August 15 was first recommended in 1963 (Snow, 1963) and though the season closure date has moved several times, the regulatory season opening date has remained unchanged.

Over time, a number of efforts have been made to improve coastwide coordination of season openings allowing for an orderly start to the crab season. Since 1993, this coordination has taken the form of the Tri-state protocol which details a preseason testing program based on meat recovery and season opening procedure for Washington, Oregon, and California (Didier, 2002). The latest revision of the preseason testing protocol for the Tri-state coastal Dungeness crab commercial fishery, signed in August 2019, is available here.

Today, preparation for the season opening begins in late November as Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) partners with the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission to collect crab for preseason testing. Concurrently, crab are collected from each test station for Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) domoic acid tests. Once the season opening structure is determined, ODFW notifies industry and the public as soon as possible so that there is adequate time to prepare to fish.

In Oregon, fishers are allowed to set commercial crab pots during a 73-hour gear setting period prior to the season opening (OAR 635-005-0485). A gear setting period was first adopted in the mid-1960s at the request of industry to provide equal opportunity to vessels of all sizes, reduce congestion, and improve safety (ODFW, 1983).

Beginning on the day prior to the season opening, Oregon State Police conduct hold inspections of all vessels participating in the first 30 days of the season, with assistance from ODFW (OAR 635-055-0465). Each vessel hold is inspected and certified to be free of crab before providing the vessel operator an Oregon hold inspection certificate. If the fishery has been divided into multiple fishing zones, the fisher must also declare which fishing zone they intend to fish. A vessel used for fishing crab in an open zone is then prohibited from fishing in any zone that opens later within the same crab season until 30 days after the later-opening zone has opened.

In addition to regulatory season delays due to meat quality or biotoxins (i.e., domoic acid), industry-led delays of the ocean commercial season may occur for several reasons. Historically, these delays have been the result of inclement weather or inability to agree upon a starting price. A state-supervised price negotiation process was established in 2003 to allow harvesters and processors to collectively bargain for an opening price. This voluntary price negotiation process is initiated only at the request of harvesters and dealers representing at least 51% of the active permits and buying capacity in the state, respectively. If this threshold is met and price negotiations proceed, the process is overseen by ODA with involved parties bound by the terms of the negotiated price agreement. Through this process, crabbers are able to set gear and begin fishing safely and efficiently, while processors can ensure a dependable supply of crab.

The commercial crab season opening is a complex process that involves many parties and is subject to variability in weather, crab abundance, molting patterns, and a number of other factors. Dungeness crab are an iconic retail product and culturally significant species in Oregon, and regulations are designed to maintain product quality, while also allowing for an orderly start to the season to minimize safety concerns.

With the ocean commercial crab season opening tomorrow in Oregon, it is an exciting time to be working with ODFW in Newport. I’ve been able to observe and participate in various aspects of two season openings now, and I’m continually impressed by the amount of time, effort, and coordination that is required to get the season started. Like everyone else on the coast, I look forward to the coming weeks and the influx of fresh Dungeness crab that will soon available and ready to be enjoyed by all!


Didier, A. J., Jr. 2002. The Pacific coast Dungeness crab fishery. Submitted to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the United States Senate and Committee on Resources of the United States House of Representatives. The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, 30 pp.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). 1983. Staff statement on preseason setting of crab pots and crab pot release mechanism for public hearing March 18, 1983. Exhibit E. Marine Region, 4 pp.

Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). 1979. Draft Fishery Management Plan for the Dungeness Crab Fishery off Washington, Oregon and California. 93 pp.

Rasmuson, L. K. 2013. The biology, ecology, and fishery of the Dungeness crab, Cancer magister. In Advances in Marine Biology, Vol. 65, pp. 95–148. Ed. By M. Lesser. Academic Press, Burlington. 176 pp.

Snow, C. D. 1963. Oregon crab management. Oregon Fish Commission, 14 pp.

Waldron, K. D. 1958. The fishery and biology of the Dungeness crab (Cancer magister Dana) in Oregon waters. Fish Commission of Oregon, Report No. 24, 45 pp.