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
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2 thoughts on “Climate change scenario planning for Oregon’s Dungeness crab fishery

  1. Such a great photo, Astrea! Your 15 months at TNC seemed to fly by! I really appreciated you sharing insight into the virtual scenario planning process. Do you think there are valuable aspects to offering remote options like this, even after we return to in person activities?

  2. Astrea, great to see you accomplishing such great things! I’ve been reaching out and reconnecting with some old friends and could not be happier with my search results when trying to find you! Very proud of you and your contributions to wildlife management and overall success. Please feel free to contact me any time.

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