What’s the plan?

I am currently a second year Master’s student studying Fisheries Science under Dr. Scott Heppell at Oregon State University. When it comes to my research project, I have not started collecting or analyzing data yet (a global pandemic did get a bit in the way in that regard). However, I have put together a research proposal and successfully completed my “research review” (which is a formal meeting that confirms the organization of your thesis committee and allows for everyone to review and sign off on your proposal) in December, which certainly has helped me to feel more accomplished and like progress is being made!

The idea behind the project…

Fisheries monitoring is an important aspect of fisheries management, used to assess populations and determine sustainable harvest. In the commercial fishery there are several means of collecting this data (fish tickets, at-sea fishery observers, electronic logbooks, and various electronic monitoring technologies). In Oregon, however, there is currently only one way that we collect data on the recreational fishery, port samplers. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) conducts dockside interviews, counting landed catch (all fish caught) and interviewing anglers regarding discards (released fish) via the Ocean Recreational Boat Survey (ORBS). Of the recreational charter fishery alone, ORBS samples an impressive 30%. Yet, compared to the commercial fishery, there remains a significant lack of monitoring data.

Dockside sampling via ODFW’s Oregon Recreational Boat Survey
Photo credit: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Which is why I am proposing an alternative form of electronic monitoring of the recreational fishery on the Oregon Coast. In collaboration with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP), my master’s project will test a stereo-video system onboard recreational charter vessels. Utilizing photogrammetry (the science of obtaining reliable measurements using photos and/or videos), I will identify and quantify recreational catch data off the Oregon coast and compare it to sampling data collected by state port samplers via standard sampling techniques. Both the ODFW Marine Reserves team and CCFRP conduct several hook-and-line surveys every year (targeting groundfish). These surveys are conducted both inside and outside of marine reserves and all fish caught are brought on board, identified, measured, and recorded by ODFW or CCFRP trained volunteers.

Volunteer anglers with the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP) assist in conducting fishery-independent hook-and-line, catch and release surveys.
Photo credit: California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program

I will simultaneously collect stereo-video data on as many surveys as I can tag-along on in 2021. Which means I can then compare the length measurements I collect via stereo-video to the length measurements collected by hand during these surveys. Additionally, this is a unique opportunity to collect previously unobtainable data of the bycatch typically discarded on recreational charter boats. With this sampling design, I can make various comparisons that would shed light on whether electronic monitoring could be appropriate in recreational fisheries. Additionally, I will compare current reported data (collected via port samplers) to my own, with the ability to assess the accuracy of current reporting techniques and propose a cost effective, low maintenance alternative.

Given the current pandemic and potential for other disease outbreaks, I can imagine that in this new world of social distancing, an alternative form of port sampling may be necessary in the future. The stereo-video technology utilized in my project could be integrated into kiosks located at filet stations in all major Oregon ports. Thereby allowing the continued collection of recreational catch data without placing ODFW port samplers in danger or managing large absences in data.

Stereo-video systems are traditionally used in this manner (underwater) to identify and measure fish in a non-invasive way. I will be using this same technology and software ABOVE water and on the deck of a charter vessel.
Photo credit: Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership

The second half of my research project, entails investigating further into the uncertainty associated with bycatch data in the recreational fishery. Retained catch can be measured directly at the dock, but accurate monitoring of bycatch requires (1) anglers accurately identify released species and (2) remember what they released. Due to event recall biases and variability in species ID skills, this can introduce a high degree of uncertainty in recreational fisheries data. The main source of bycatch data for the recreational fishery in Oregon are in-person interviews conducted by port samplers. To supplement this, three at-sea observers sample a portion of the sport charter vessels for species composition, discard rates and sizes, location, depth, and catch per angler as part of ODFW’s Sport Groundfish Onboard Sampling Program (SGOSP). My objective is to determine whether current average bycatch values are accurately represented in port sampler collected interviews. To assess this uncertainty, we will compare data currently being collected by ODFW via ORBS port samplers to data collected by at-sea observers via SGOSP. By comparing these data, I will determine if bycatch recall values reported by recreational charter boat captains are in line with the same data documented by at-sea fisheries observers.

That’s the plan anyway. As the sun starts to peak out from the clouds more frequently, plans begin to form and pressure begins to build for my upcoming field season. I have a few updates I would like to share soon, so stay posted!

California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP). Video put together by volunteer angler Matt Michie.

Differences I observed going from academia to government

As I transitioned from academia to a government agency, I noticed some similarities between the two. In both places I have worked with an incredible lab/team that are always willing to help figure out why some R code isn’t working or review a paper. Also, in both places I have been constantly learning new things and testing my skills. On the other hand, I have noticed many differences between my experience as a graduate student at the University of Florida and as a fellow with the Marine Reserves Program at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

One major difference between the two places is how I speak about my research. As a student I was allowed to be an advocate. I could speak about wanting to expand protected areas and conserve all species to my heart’s content. It was practically expected of me to have these strong opinions about conservation and discuss them openly. Working for a state agency, the expectation is exactly the opposite. I now must be impartial in my word choice both in person and in writing. Though I work for the Marine Reserves Program, I am not an advocate for marine reserves. I am simply studying how the marine reserves may have impacted communities and presenting these results in a straightforward manner. If I take a strong position on marine reserves, the public may lose trust in my ability to conduct unbiased research. If the public loses this trust, they are less likely to support the agency and follow agency regulations. This trust is crucial, but also fragile.

Another difference between academia and government is the type of research being conducted. In academia, the focus is more on what is interesting and would advance the field. In government, the focus is on achieving the mandate. Therefore, our research options are limited and must be strictly applied research rather than theoretical. We also must be transparent about our research and where funds are going since we are a largely tax-funded agency. This is another important component of building that trust.

Government agencies typically work on projects with larger scale timeframes than what graduate students are involved in. While long-term monitoring projects are typically considered boring and unpublishable in academia, these types of data are the bread and butter of ODFW reports. We are constantly monitoring fish stocks, commercial fishing pressure, license sales, oceanographic conditions, etc. Most of these data are written up in annual reports and used to inform management. While long-term monitoring is generally not considered “sexy” research, it is extremely useful to have these historical datasets to understand how things have changed over time. I am using many of these historical datasets in my current work looking at how marine reserves may have impacted factors like recreational anglers’ Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE), commercial fishing employment, and coastal communities’ socioeconomic conditions.

Lastly, one of the best changes I experienced when going from academia to government was an increased focus on having a work-life balance. In graduate school I was applauded for staying in the lab late and working on weekends. In my current position, I am expected to only be working 40-hour weeks and taking weekends off. We spend time in our weekly meetings discussing general life announcements that aren’t marine reserves related in the slightest. We even share good places to hike, mountain bike, snowshoe, camp, etc. because we know we will all have time to do these fun hobbies.

These are some of the major differences I observed in my life going from academia to government. These are solely based on my personal experience and are likely not applicable to everyone that made this transition.

How could distal influence in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory affect one’s perception and learning experiences on ocean acidification free-choice learning?

I am a new scholar and since this is my first post, so I’ll start by introducing myself, my background, and then briefly talking about the research topic and the theory as well as paradigm that frame my research.

My name is Shu-Min Tsai, and I am the Malouf Scholar for Oregon Sea Grant. I am pursuing my Ph.D. degree in Environmental Science at Oregon State University. I just finished my prelim and now am a Ph.D. candidate. I am now doing my dissertation research in Taiwan, Brazil and the U.S. Graduate school can be hard and a dredge, and it is not an exception for me especially during the pandemic since my dissertation project is mainly based on museum study regarding the environmental issue – ocean acidification perception among the public.

I am from Taiwan, an island country with a diverse ecosystem and culture. Since ocean acidification (OA) is a serious problem to Taiwan’s coral reef ecosystem and fisheries, also, it is having considerable effects on the Oregon coast, I want to understand more how people’s environmental identity (EID) and worldview could affect their learning experiences on this abstract and complicated climate change issue in a free-choice learning setting (i.e., aquariums and museums).

In the real world, although OA has profound impacts to our marine ecosystem and coastal communities and is often thought of as the evil twins of climate change, the acknowledgment, and understanding of OA among the public is low. The reasons is that to most people, OA is irrelevant to their life experiences also most people are not familiar with its chemical reaction that cause harm to the marine ecosystem; so, all of the reasons cause the awareness of OA and its impacts low among the public. What’s more, OA is a complicated issue not just due to its scientific aspects, it also connects to other aspects that involve personal and social factors such as personal worldview, family education, social norms, and national beliefs. In summary, these factors that I’ve mentioned make the engagement with OA concepts in public settings difficult. So how could we solve this problem?

According to several studies, one of the ways to link people with the environment is through environmental education (EE). Several studies have shown that EE and early childhood experiences with nature can help shape one’s EID. Here, I want to clarify that the EID I mention here and in my dissertation is a combination of Clayton’s environmental identity and environmental worldviews.

So again, I have mentioned that the EE and early childhood experiences with nature can help shape one’s EID. And I believe, reciprocally, one’s EID also affects one’s beliefs or perceptions on specific environmental issues, or their willingness to engage in environmental problem solving, and to address specific issues in the public. In other words, I think, this is a process that has a feedback loop that if an individual has effective EE experiences, these experiences could help us construct EID, literacy. And then ideally, we would put more trust and equity to nature, and then this process could strengthen our environmental identity or even refine or reconstruct it.

However, although we have acknowledged the power of EE and how EE helps construct or refine one’s EID, few studies have focused on how one’s EID affects their further environmental learning experiences. Not to mention what role does EID plays in abstract issues education such as OA learning experiences or people’s will to learn. Therefore, I think it would be worth doing such research focusing on how EID affects one’s EE learning experiences, especially in free-choice learning settings.

To sum up, my overall research goals are to evaluate the influence of EID in abstract environmental concepts perception (e.g., climate change & ocean acidification) in free-choice learning settings and hope to provide a forum for researchers and educators to facilitate future museum exhibition designs and interpretation regarding the public awareness on abstract and complex environmental issues.

To access my research goals, I conduct three study phases to answer three different but related questions as follows:

Phase I, identifying one’s relationship with nature using the EID survey

Phase II, investigating one’s perception before and after they visit the museum and what contributes to their perceptions (this includes their childhood memories or past education) through PMM.

Phase III, conducting an in-depth interview to understand what personal life stories contribute to their EID enactment and their learning experiences.

However, before we go deep into my research, I want to first discuss the theory and paradigm that frame this research. To study the relationship between one’s EID and people’s learning in a free-choice learning setting, I think we should consider how one’s EID is constructed and then refined during one’s lifetime. So, I would like to introduce Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system theory to you since Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system theory would be a suitable model for us to think about EID’s construction and refinement.

Specifically, Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory sees child development as a complex system of relationships affected by multiple levels of the surrounding environment, from immediate settings of family and school to broad cultural values, laws, and customs.

To study a child’s development and how a child learns, educators must look not only at the child and his/her immediate environment but also at the interaction of the larger environment as well. And in my study, this larger environment points to the free-choice learning settings, especially museums and aquariums regarding my research topic on people’s understanding of complex and abstract scientific concepts – climate change and ocean acidification.

In my opinion, museums settings are places that meet the criteria of cognitive development in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system theory – individual’s values and identity (e.g., EID) would be influenced by not only their own life experiences (e.g., education) or family values, but also the history, cultural-artifacts, or even from the community or the society (social norms, national identity, and etc.) In other words, we could expect to observe not only proximal influences (e.g., family values, individual beliefs, etc.) but also distal influences on the individual’s EID and values construction in these settings.

What I want to emphasize is that, in his theory model, media, museums are considered as the distal influence of one’s ID construction. Therefore, I consider it is important to think about how we as museum researchers or educators could influence an individual’s EID from the macrosystem. Or in other words, how we can use these distal influences to affect an individual’s EID construction or promote the public perceptions on OA and even trigger pro-environmental behaviors and stewardship. 

Besides Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological System theory, I use sociocultural theory as my research epistemology. It is because studies have indicated that the important aspect in maintaining and constructing identity is the recognition by others. And for the purpose of this research, I am focusing on both the personal and sociocultural contexts that are both important contexts that construct visitor’s museum experience. Also, since I believe that an individual’s EID is shaped by cultural-historical contexts such as artifacts and ways of thinking passed down from generation to generation, the sociocultural theory will be a good fit for my research since it emphasizes both social contexts and the mediating role of cultural-historical perspectives of the community encoded into artifacts.

Last but not the least, I consider this study will be conducted under the pragmatism paradigm since it acknowledges the importance of social-cultural contexts in human knowledge and worldview construction and refinement. And this claim is complimentary with the sociocultural theory that social and cultural contexts play a critical role in learning. Another reason is that I believe different types of research questions within a specific topic need specific methods to access. And this is what the pragmatism paradigm asserts – “the best method is the one that is most effective in producing the desired consequences of the inquiry.”

I am now collecting data in Taiwan’s museums and aquariums and also in the future in the U.S. and Brazil. I am now excited to see the differences between northern Taiwan and southern Taiwan where has different types of shoreline (sand versus rock), education levels, economic and resources status, etc. Hope you will enjoy my further post on my dissertation research around the world.

Oregon Aquaculture Highlights

Hello! I am a new fellow so I’ll start by introducing myself and my background. My name is Amy Ehrhart and I am the Aquaculture Fellow for Oregon Sea Grant. I started this position in November 2020 part-time while I finished my PhD in Environmental Science and Management at Portland State University. I was about two weeks away from my defense when the position began which made for a whirlwind of a month. But somehow I was able to defend, edit and submit everything on time. It feels surreal to be done with graduate school and starting a fellowship, especially during a pandemic. 

So how did I get into aquaculture? My dissertation research focused on pharmaceutical contaminants in coastal ecosystems. Two of my research chapters addressed effects and accumulation of these compounds in Pacific oysters, which are commercially grown in Oregon and Washington. To conduct field experiments, I used off-bottom rack-and-bag culture methods (see picture below) to grow oysters in areas near and far from contaminant sources. While aquaculture was not the main focus of my research, I gained a good understanding of oyster biology/ecology, different growing methods, areas where culture is taking place, and some industry priorities. Since starting the fellowship I have learned A LOT more about aquaculture in Oregon and the West coast and I am enjoying the break from contaminant work, which can be very interesting, but also a little doom and gloom.  

Pacific oysters being grown in mesh bags attached to a PVC rack in Netarts Bay, Oregon (April 2017).

So far in my fellowship I have focused on three main projects: conducting a landscape analysis, planning a needs assessment, and participating in a regional seaweed aquaculture collaborative. I also provided updated content for the Oregon Sea Grant aquaculture website to highlight these current endeavors. There hasn’t been a large focus on aquaculture at Oregon Sea Grant for a few years so there was a need to identify who the major players are in the industry. I was tasked with completing a “landscape analysis” or more simply put, a spreadsheet of people, groups, and agencies involved with marine aquaculture in Oregon. I spent a good portion of my time compiling this information, and I continue adding to it as my work continues. 

My second project involved planning a needs assessment for growers, prospective growers, agencies, and researchers working on aquaculture topics. Globally, about 50% of seafood comes from aquaculture (NOAA Fisheries), and a lot of this is imported to the U.S. from other countries. There is federal support for coastal states to increase domestic aquaculture production, but they face several challenges and barriers. Oregon aquaculture production is fairly low compared to other states, and there is a potential opportunity for expansion, which could provide significant economic benefits for the state. But we don’t know if there is interest in expansion in marine aquaculture or what the current challenges are for growers. The goal of the needs assessment is to identify needs and barriers surrounding aquaculture expansion and use this information to inform outreach and engagement strategies. I am currently finalizing an online survey that will be distributed as soon as it gets human subjects research approval. 

My third project has been participating in a collaborative group that represents California, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska with a focus on seaweed aquaculture. Seaweed is a relatively new product, and one that I knew very little about coming into this group. I have been working hard to catch up so I can contribute meaningful recommendations. Our goal is to plan a regional symposium on seaweed farming that will be beneficial to growers and other industry members in all west coast states. This is incredibly challenging as all of the states have highly variable regulatory requirements, environmental constraints, and current seaweed operations. In Oregon, seaweed aquaculture is in the very early stages and constitutes 2-3 growers that cultivate Pacific dulse seaweed in land-based tanks. This is very different from a state like Alaska, that produces large amounts of kelp in the offshore environment. Identifying topics and strategies that apply to all states at a regional level has been an interesting challenge, and I look forward to strategizing and learning more. 

These first three months of my fellowship have flown by and I am really enjoying the work! It was difficult to start a job with a heavy focus on stakeholder engagement during a pandemic that restricts in-person interactions, but I am feeling much more optimistic about the future as vaccines are being administered and COVID-19 cases are starting to drop.

Thanks for reading and stay safe out there!

Beginning your research project during a global pandemic

In the Haze

Graduate school can be hard and a dredge. You get lost in the details, in YOUR project, in the details of your project and you lose perspective. When I decided to come back to school for my graduate degree, I decided that I would lay down some boundaries that might help me keep better perspective. Work whilst at work, play and rest at home. Obviously there would be some exceptions (research is not a 40 hour a week job, between teaching classes, taking classes, applying for funding and grants, conducting your research, and professional service inevitably there is always some working during your planned free time), but I found that sticking to this plan to be very helpful. Working from my office gave me a chance to engage in work actively and intentionally, reinforcing a need to use my time wisely and efficiently. This also meant that I was able to disengage and recharge when I went home.

Then, COVID-19 made its internationally debut. EVERYONE has been impacted by COVID, I am no exception. Overall, I feel very lucky and privileged to have faired as well as I have. Yes, my field work has been continually delayed, but I have a paying job, food in my belly, and a roof over my head, and a loved one (and furry one) to keep me company at home. It is hard not to be grateful when I know that I am much better off than many. That is the large-scale perspective.

When I analyze how my professional life has been affected by COVID-19 things start to get fuzzy. For the safety of myself and my family, I work from home. I have a quiet place to work and have no real obligations or worries that hinder my ability to work from home (like children or loved ones that need my care). Yet, I know that my ability to stay focused and motivated has decreased. My ability to draw the lines between work hours and personal hours has blurred, my efficiency has gone down, and as a result my morale has greatly suffered. Being a graduate student can be hard… I have so many privileges including setting my own schedule and having ultimate flexibility and culpability with nearly every choice that effects my professional life. But it can be difficult to keep perspective when you have ONE over-arching goal over the course of several years to accomplish – your research project, your thesis, your publication(s). It is hard to see the progress you have made, to see the steps forward, and the steps you have already taken behind you.

In my experience, field work keeps you connected to your study subject. Working in the field rejuvenates your excitement, inspires new ideas, and thus keeps you motivated throughout the rest of the year. Like many, my field work has been delayed due to COVID-19 (hopefully, I will be collecting data this fall). However, the combination of working from home on a research project with no definite end date, and without any field work or significant excuse to leave the safety of my home, has left me feeling a bit lost and dejected.

Do the next right thing…

Alas, time continues to pass and the reality of an impending defense date looms somewhere in the future. Currently, it seems difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It almost feels as though I have stalled out before my project even started, yet I remind myself of the long-term goal. The goal is to conduct a research project from start to finish, complete a thesis, publish, and obtain my master’s degree in fisheries science and hopefully along the way I will take a step towards doing some good in the world of marine science.

For now, I will keep in mind advice that I once received from a wise source, Disney’s animated film Frozen 2, “All one can do is the next right thing”. At this point in time that means continuing to engage in my quantitative ecology class where I am learning about how to better conduct data analysis; continue to make appointments with mentors and collaborators who can help inspire ideas and motivate me during this strange time; and lastly, to refine my methodology as much as possible before data collection begins this fall. One day at a time, one step at a time, just doing the next right thing.

State Agency Role in Natural Resource Management

One of things that has surprised me the most, is the difficulty State agencies have in weighing all of the interests involved in authorizing activities off the coast. For my project particularly, there are several State agencies who have authority and expertise over key State resources that may be affected by an authorization of an activity. From working in the non-profit world, I was unaware of how many stakeholders are considered throughout the administrative process.

Marine Spatial Planning, is an interesting field, with several intersections of studies involved. From economics to marine sediment management, natural resource agencies are tasked with weighing each and every use and resource to determine whether certain projects can move forward. While this sounds pretty straight-forward, I have learned that this can become pretty tricky, very quickly.

Like many other coastal states, the Oregon Coastal Management Program (OCMP) follows the networked approach, which allows several agencies to have jurisdiction over marine resources located in State waters. This model allows for each agency to “flex” their expertise while also contributing to strategizing the State plan for coastal management. The Dept. of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) is tasked with ensuring that these needs are met throughout the State, which includes ensuring coastal management is integrated into several other agency work plans. For example, the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is tasked with managing the biological resources of the State, including resources found within Oregon’s territorial sea. The OCMP relies heavily on ODFW’s expertise in planning for activities in the territorial sea, and leverages their ability to analyze the effects of certain activities to those resources. In addition to speaking with experts in the agency, OCMP often communicates with the local communities to ensure that their concerns are heard, and responded to (in real time).

Some of the time, these concerns can be at odds with each other, and DLCD is tasked with making the ultimate decision, as to whether certain projects can move forward with the State’s approval.* This dichotomy has been pretty interesting to watch. Over time, I have realized that each of the agency employees have different ways of engaging with these audiences to ensure their voices are heard. For example, one of my mentors has a regular marine policy phone call with ODFW to hear any of these concerns informally. This ensures that the networked partner agency is apprised of potential agency actions, and has the time and space to respond in an unfiltered manner. Hearing these concerns, and coordinating with ODFW has developed into years of a healthy working relationship.

I think learning how to strike this balance has been a great lesson for me, and I hope to implement it as I continue to work in the marine natural resource management world!

*Under the Coastal Zone Management Act, States have the ability to review certain federal permits known to have reasonable foreseeable effects to State resources for compliance with State enforceable policies. While federal government, ultimately has discretion, the State plays a large role in ensuring these concerns are appropriately mitigated by the person pursuing the activity.

How do we know if marine reserves influence recreational fishing communities?

We’ve almost made it! The year 2020 is just about to end and 2021 is right around the corner. Though many issues that were highlighted in 2020 won’t be going away in 2021 and need to continue to be addressed, there are some things to look forward to. Just this month, healthcare workers started receiving the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine. As more and more people get vaccinated, we will hopefully see the end of strict quarantine measures in the near future. Maybe we will even be able to spend the 2021 holidays with family without a mask in sight! 2021 will also bring a new administration with climate change as a top priority, which will likely influence ocean policies and management. So, while 2020 was an important year and we should not forget what we learned in it, here’s to hoping that 2021 doesn’t throw us any detrimental curveballs.

Now that you’re up to date on some of what’s happening in the USA, let me update you on what I’ve been working on. In my last blog post I outlined how I’m using the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) daily angling license sale data to determine if marine reserves have influenced recreational fishing. Since people are no longer able to fish in the marine reserve sites, we might expect this to result in fewer licenses purchased in towns near the reserves post implementation. This might also be observed by an increase in licenses purchased in towns further from the reserves.

However, whether or not people decide to go fishing is just one aspect of measuring a potential reserve effect on recreational fishing communities. For those that do decide to go fishing, how much they catch and over what time period is another crucial component. This metric is referred to as Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE). For our analysis, we calculate CPUE by dividing the total number of fish caught by the number of anglers aboard the vessel and by the number of hours fished. This creates a standardized metric whereby we can compare fishing trips with varying numbers of anglers and hours fished. Specifically, we can compare CPUE reported at docks near marine reserves pre- and post-marine reserve implementation. We might expect that marine reserve site closures could increase effort, thereby decreasing CPUE, by forcing anglers to spend more time traveling further to avoid the reserves. On the other hand, we might expect site closures to increase catch, thereby increasing CPUE, due to spillover effects whereby a greater abundance of fish inside the reserves leads to a greater abundance of fish outside the reserves.

Lucky for me, ODFW has been collecting the information I need to calculate CPUE through the Ocean Recreational Boat Survey (ORBS).  This is an annual survey of Oregon’s marine recreational fishery that estimates both catch and effort at the top 10-11 ocean access points. This survey was first developed in 1979, but the original focus was on generating accurate salmon estimates in a timely manner. The ORBS survey has since expanded and provides valuable data on stock abundance and health for many species, which is used for management purposes.

By looking at both daily angling license sales as well as CPUE on charter boats, we should be able to uncover any potential marine reserve effects on the recreational fishing community. Of course, there are many covariates to take into account that could influence CPUE, such as catch regulations and environmental variables. I won’t dive into this right now, but maybe another blog post detailing the difficulties of finding downloadable historical buoy data without huge gaps is in order. Signing off for now, happy New Year!

Climate change scenario planning for Oregon’s Dungeness crab fishery

In my last post I introduced two scenario planning processes facilitated by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The bulk of my fellowship position has been in support of these processes. In that post, I offered an overview of scenario planning, and outlined developments in the federal fishery scenario planning process with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). In this post, I share progress of the Oregon Dungeness crab fishery climate change scenario planning process.

Scenario Planning for Oregon’s Dungeness crab fishery

TNC launched the Dungeness crab scenario planning process early in 2020, with the expectation of completing the exercise by Summer 2021. This process was modeled off a successful framework used with PFMC, and tailored to fit Oregon’s crab fishery and its socio-economic connections. Throughout the majority of my fellowship, I assisted my supervisor, Gway Kirchner and Scenario Insights (a contracted scenario planning facilitator) to integrate a broad set of representative voices from across the Oregon coast in the process.    

It is important to plan for the future of this fishery because Dungeness crab is (generally) Oregon’s most lucrative single species fishery. It is also one of the only Oregon fisheries that operates in winter months, so it offers employment opportunities and economic relief to natural resource-dependent coastal communities during a slow time of year. The Dungeness fishery has been faced with some big challenges over the past five years, namely an increase in whale entanglements and high bio toxin levels (bio toxin levels are monitored throughout the season, and area closures are implemented as needed to ensure consumer safety). These challenges are symptomatic of early climate change effects, and could intensify as time goes on. A scenario planning process offers managers, fishermen, industry, researchers, markets and communities the opportunity to look into the future at different potential situations. These processes offer a framework to collaboratively brainstorm ideas and decisions that could improve the ability of all relevant parties to adapt to a changing world.  

Planning during a Pandemic

The state scenario planning process is designed for robust input from all stakeholders and to work collaboratively to research, create and deepen the scenarios. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic, which began during the early stages of this process, made it impossible to host in-person programs. Thus, the process was redesigned into a pandemic-friendly, online collaborative format.

By summer, the Dungeness crab scenario planning process had been moved to virtual format and the kickoff meeting, scenario creation workshop and smaller focus groups were successfully held. The virtual format required a lot of flexibility and hard work to connect with relevant parties, plan and conduct meetings, and ensure all voices were heard especially if some participants were unfamiliar with how to operate an online platform. While online collaboration was challenging at times, the process yielded robust results.

Fig. 1: Dungeness crab scenario diagram. Scenario Insights (2020)

I will briefly zoom in on the August 12th scenario creation workshop, because it was a great example of collaboration through an online format. TNC and Scenario Insights were able to offer a truncated, online version of the January 2020 federal scenario creation workshop, complete with speakers and a guided framework design process. Participants, facilitators and the core team worked together to produce the diagram below, which shows four plausible scenarios along two axis: viability of crab fishing in 2040 and variability of stock and ocean conditions in 2040 (fig.1). Similar to the Federal scenario creation workshop, this integrated the experience, knowledge and concerns of managers, researchers, fishermen and other stakeholders. After the scenario creation workshop, two subsequent virtual meetings were held with a scenario drafting team to fill in social, economic, regulatory and ecosystem aspects of each scenario.

Next Steps

After the wintertime rush of the 2020/2021 commercial crab season, TNC will facilitate discussions with a broader diversity of stakeholders to ground-truth the scenarios, examine how individuals see these scenarios fitting into their individual realities, and document potential ideas or applicable action items that emerge from those dialogues. TNC hopes to finish this process by summer 2021.

Fellowship Wrap Up

I am so appreciative of my Natural Resource Policy Fellowship with The Nature Conservancy. Over the past 15 months, TNC site has folded me into a number of dynamic marine and coast conservation projects, including two innovative climate change scenario planning process. This fellowship has been a tremendous opportunity for me to connect my academic background with current climate change resilience work. Not to mention, excellent collaboration and networking opportunities. My position closes at the end of December, so this will be my final blog post. I look forward to bringing my skills in social science, climate change research and outreach to my next career steps.

The photo below shows me holding a Pacific red rock crab during a TNC employee trip to the Oregon coast in October, 2019. Both Red rock crabs and Dungeness crab are often caught in recreational traps (or “pots”) across the Oregon coast. This trip was the first of many highlights from my time at TNC, and an opportunity to share my inordinate love for the Oregon coast with new colleagues. Thank you to Oregon Sea Grant and The Nature Conservancy for offering so many opportunities to grow as an early career social scientist.

Photo Credit: Alli Gardner/TNC
Photo credit: Allie Gardner/TNC

A Progress Report on Federal Fishery Scenario Planning

In my Spring 2020 blog, I wrote about the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) scenario planning process. As an Oregon Sea Grant fellow based at The Nature Conservancy (TNC), I have held a support role in parts of this process, and have observed the exercise since October 2019. In that post I also mentioned the beginnings of an Oregon-specific Dungeness crab fishery scenario planning process facilitated by TNC.

In this entry I will focus on developments in the scenario planning process for the Pacific Fishery Management Council. My next blog (coming very soon) will examine how the Oregon Dungeness crab fishery scenario planning process builds on and deviates from the PFMC process. If you would like to go back and learn more about PFMC scenario planning, please read (or re-read) my previous posting HERE.  

Scenario Planning Overview

Before I share more on the PFMC scenario planning process, I will quickly go over some general history of scenario planning.

Scenario planning is a tool that was first used by the oil industry in the 1960’s, the process was so successful that it has since been adapted by companies, NGOs, financial institutions and government entities around the world. Managers and decision makers use this strategy to avoid tunnel vision when visualizing, and preparing for the future. You can think of scenario planning as a tool used to plan for future uncertainty, and a practice that helps decision makers develop appropriate strategies to meet that uncertainty (Wilkenson & Kupers 2013).

Click HERE for a great read from the Harvard Business Review on the history of scenario planning.

Scenario developers draw upon literature, knowledge of experts and data sets that reflect current conditions, trends and future predictions. They use this information to create a set of plausible and relevant pictures that show what the future could look like. Scenarios must be plausible, but not necessarily probable; a distinction that is important because it is easy default to planning based off subjective predictions or extrapolations of the current state. Using these default methods can be extremely limiting because they doesn’t leave space for divergence from an expected trajectory (Wilkinson & Kupers 2013).

Once formed, “scenarios” are placed on axis. Each axis reflects a scale of no change (or low change) to extreme change of a future system. The number of scenarios developed differs by process, but the PFMC process uses four scenarios. After scenarios are created, plausibility is cross checked with stakeholders, scenarios are researched, then turned into stories that illustrate these possible futures. Managers and decision makers integrate stories and their broader implications into strategy development, strategic planning processes and risk assessments.

Scenario Planning for West Coast Fisheries

The Pacific Fishery Management Council is one of the eight Regional Fishery Management Councils in the United States. PFMC recommends management measures for all federal fisheries conducted off of West Coast states, including California, Oregon and Washington (PFMC). PFMC and TNC are working together to conduct a scenario planning process under the current Fishery Ecosystem Plan: The Climate and Communities Initiative. The goal of this scenario planning process is to identify socio economic, environmental, cultural and biological challenges that fishery stakeholders may face over the next two decades (PFMC 2020 (B)).

January Workshop

In my aforementioned, post I described the January scenario planning workshop held by PFMC and TNC, facilitated by the consulting firm Scenario Insights. This workshop included 80+ fishermen, managers, tribal members and scientists in a brainstorming session that examined the question: How will climate change impact West Coast species and communities over the next 20 years? (PFMC 2020 (B)). The workshop produced a set of four scenarios, organized across two axis: Climate and ocean conditions and species abundance/availability (Fig 1.). Post meeting, scenario components, axis and scenario descriptions were sent to researchers, the council community and other relevant parties. these groups conducted further research, validated plausibility, and added details, data and further scenario illustration.

This presentation, created by Jonathan Star of Scenario Insights, illustrates the scope of the January workshop:

Fig. 1: https://www.pcouncil.org/documents/2020/03/g-3-a-supplemental-cci-workshop-presentation-1-follow-up-from-a-workshop-co-sponsored-by-the-nature-conservancy-and-pacific-fishery-management-councilin-support-of-the-fishery-ecosystem.pdf/

Scenario Development

On August 2, 2020, the PFMC Climate and Communities Core Team released the set of fully developed scenarios for West Coast fisheries in 2040. This document includes:

  • Information on projected future environmental conditions, demographics, ocean uses, technology, economics and societal values, policy environment
  • Four refined scenarios (see Fig. 2)
  • Descriptions of each scenario
  • How each West Coast federal fishery may look under a given scenario.
Fig. 2: https://www.pcouncil.org/documents/2020/11/scenarios-for-west-coast-fisheries-climate-and-communities-initiative.pdf/

Next Steps

The PFMC Climate and Communities Core Team will begin meetings with stakeholders in early 2021 to review these scenarios ground-truth their contents. The core team will examine perceived challenges and opportunities related to the future of fisheries, and actions needed for commercial fisheries to remain profitable in the future. The core team is also interested in stakeholder thoughts on how existing successful conservation benefits can be maintained in the future, and what needs to be done to avoid future overfishing or habitat degradation. The Pacific Fishery Management Council will likely take final action during their March or September Meetings. Ideally actionable items will be identified during this process, and a work plan will be developed to ensure sustained momentum towards a future of climate-smart fisheries on the West Coast.


Wilkenson, A., Kupers, R. (2013) Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2013/05/living-in-the-futures

Pacific Fishery Management Council. Who We Are And What We Do. (Website) https://www.pcouncil.org/about-the-council-2/

Pacific Fishery Management Council (2020) (A). Supplemental CCI workshop presentation 1: Developing future scenarios for climate change in the California Current Ecosystem (presentation). https://www.pcouncil.org/documents/2020/03/g-3-a-supplemental-cci-workshop-presentation-1-follow-up-from-a-workshop-co-sponsored-by-the-nature-conservancy-and-pacific-fishery-management-councilin-support-of-the-fishery-ecosystem.pdf/

Pacific Fishery Management Council (2020) (B). 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. https://www.pcouncil.org/documents/2020/03/g-3-a-supplemental-cci-workshop-presentation-1-follow-up-from-a-workshop-co-sponsored-by-the-nature-conservancy-and-pacific-fishery-management-councilin-support-of-the-fishery-ecosystem.pdf/

Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Climate and Communities Core Team (2020). 2040: Scenarios for West Coast Fisheries. https://www.pcouncil.org/documents/2020/11/scenarios-for-west-coast-fisheries-climate-and-communities-initiative.pdf/

Fellowship reflections

As Oregonians once again prepare for the start of the ocean commercial Dungeness crab season, I am wrapping up my second year as an Oregon Sea Grant fellow. And what a year it has been!

I left the office back on March 6th for a long-awaited trip to Morocco. My husband and I were planning to travel around the country for two weeks including a solo road trip that would take us from Marrakesh to the Sahara Desert and countless incredible spots along the way. A few days in to our trip and just before that road trip was set to begin, we found ourselves frantically searching for options to get home due to the new COVID-19-related travel bans being issued which were quickly closing off many of our options for traveling back. As we stood in the Marrakesh Airport amidst thousands of other travelers in the same situation, I sent an email to my supervisor letting her know what was going on, and that I’d likely need to quarantine for two weeks and figure out a way to work remotely when I get back. After taxiing two hours to Casablanca, we managed to get seats on one of the last available flights before all international travel in and out of the country was restricted. When we finally arrived back in Newport, I settled in for what we all thought would be a few weeks of working from home. I never would have believed that I’d be sitting in my kitchen-office writing this nine months later, having just spent several days preparing a full Thanksgiving meal for only two people.

Like so many others, the ongoing pandemic and other unprecedented events taking place in our country have shaped so much of the last year for me. On the one hand, my ill-fated Morocco trip is just one of many missed opportunities from the last nine months. And yet, as so many others have noted throughout this blog, this time has shown me how incredibly resilient the people around me are. Meetings, conferences, and workshops have transitioned to virtual platforms, seemingly without skipping a beat. In my own work, all three West Coast states are making substantial progress towards drafting Conservation Plans (CPs) to reduce the risk of whale entanglements in Dungeness crab gear. While I hope that it is safe to resume in-person work in the somewhat near future, I’ve been inspired by the immense capacity for adaptation and the ways that people have found to “come together” while staying apart.

As my fellowship comes to a close, I’ll be transitioning to a limited duration position with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife working through June 2021 on finalization of both Oregon’s CP and Dungeness Crab Fishery Management Plan (FMP). For the CP, this will involve drafting the remaining sections to ensure a statutorily complete draft which will be submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) as part of the state’s Incidental Take Permit application under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act. Following submission, NMFS will initiate their formal review process including National Environmental Policy Act evaluation, a Biological Opinion, public comment, and the resulting permit issuance determination. For the FMP, a complete draft has been developed and is being reviewed internally. There will be an opportunity for public input when the draft is released later this winter, prior to being presented to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission for potential adoption. I’m looking forward to being able to see each of these plans through to completion and continuing to be a part of ODFW’s Dungeness crab team.

I’m also incredibly grateful for my two years as an Oregon Sea Grant fellow. Not only has it exposed me to all of the interesting and important work taking place within the Oregon Dungeness crab fishery, it’s also provided invaluable connections within the Oregon Sea Grant community and professional development opportunities which will serve me well as I continue working on issues which affect Oregon coastal communities and ecosystems. Finally, of all the things that I’ve gotten out of my time as a fellow, this might be the most exciting… In my very first blog post, I wrote that I had yet to take the obligatory headshot of myself holding a crab to use in work-related presentations. Well, I can officially report, that is no longer the case!

Thank you!