Collaboration is key: Application of Biology to Conservation and Management

While coming to an end with my red abalone conservation and management project with Sea Grant and ODFW, I’ve come to appreciate the resources and reflections I’ve been fortunate enough to have throughout this experience.

In particular, through the collaboration of this fellowship between ODFW and Oregon Sea Grant, I was provided with a unique opportunity that allowed me to utilize my biological knowledge of marine species in the Oregon environment and apply that information in a real and effective way. Creating tangible change in the world of biological management can be difficult to achieve without understanding political boundaries, conservation constraints, and management collaboration. I was fortunate enough to be able to combine information I gathered in my master’s program at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology with a key fisheries and conservation issue facing Oregon’s dynamic subtidal environment. Through guidance by fisheries management personnel, I drafted a conservation and fishery management plan for the recreational red abalone fishery in Oregon.

Working with complex and advanced networks of scientists, managers, and administrators came with it’s own set of advantages and complications. One of the most important lessons I learned throughout this process was that effective management can only be implemented through careful consideration of diverse stakeholders, scientific investigation, historical understanding, and contextualization through current socioeconomic factors. A breakdown of any one of these considerations will diminish the long-term application of scientific understanding to conservation and management policies. As an undergraduate at OIMB, I learned a wide variety of biological concepts and processes of marine invertebrates that were fascinating and exciting. However, I rarely considered what the application of these concepts could look like within a social, economic, or historical context. When I began working at ODFW following graduation at OIMB, it became clear that while understanding the biological processes of marine organisms was a vital component of managing resources, it was not useful without proper communication and implementation of this information. In particular, my master’s project focused on increasing the biological and ecological body of information available for a large marine snail that has garnered the attention of divers and fishery participants worldwide, the red abalone. Investigating the history of red abalone presence in Oregon was a particularly fun adventure, as I was able to create a timeline of agency biologists’ involvement with red abalone as a resource and through a changing environment. A favorite of mine was the documentation of an exploratory commercial fishery effort in the late 1950s, in which a series of photos of a biologist at the time, Dale Snow, pictured with a contracted SCUBA diver and a red abalone showed the staging of this particular moment, complete with a pencil behind the ear of the biologist, and a cigarette lit just for the picture in the hand of the diver (see below).

Oregon Fish Commission aquatic biologist Dale Snow (right) and contracted diver (left) posing for a picture with a red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) to document the investigative work of exploratory diving effort performed between 1958-1962 in southern Oregon. Used by permission from ODFW archives, published by Groth and Smith 2022.

Having the ability to look back in time and see the history of work done by agency biologists allowed me to have a deep appreciation for each era of management and science. Moving towards a more ecosystem-based management strategy allows scientists and managers to work together to collaborate on advancing scientific understanding of marine resources and applying that knowledge directly to conservation and management. New technologies have allowed scientists to investigate data-deficient situations, such as the red abalone population in Oregon. I was able to collaborate with scientists at UC Davis in California to add to the body of information on red abalone populations throughout Oregon and California using genetic data. Collecting genetic samples in Oregon required further collaboration with academic researchers, commercial and recreational divers, and agency knowledge from previous biologists that detailed the habitat and presence of the elusive and cryptic red abalone in Oregon.

Utilizing historical understanding, agency management frameworks and advice, and application of modern data techniques allowed me to create a conservation and fishery management plan that relies on the strength of collaboration and inclusion. I have learned how vital positive communication techniques are to the scientific and management process through my Oregon Sea Grant Fellowship with ODFW. I hope to continue to grow and learn more about effective application of biological information through careful communication and informed policy throughout my career. I look forward to continuing to work with Oregon Sea Grant through my next role as a Marine Reserves Science Communications Fellow with ODFW beginning in 2023.

Thank you to all of the incredible collaborators, scientists, managers, and friends that have encouraged me and contributed to this project. And of course thank you to Oregon Sea Grant and ODFW for making this project possible, and the quirky and elusive red abalone in Oregon that I hope to positively affect through this work!

Signing off,

Kendall Smith

Abalone Fishery Management Challenges and Intersectional Location Benefits

It is the end of the second quarter of my Natural Resource Policy Fellowship working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to learn more about applying biological information to an imperiled shellfish fishery and it has been a challenging task so far. The recreational red abalone fishery in Oregon is unique due to its small size of users, limited information about the population level biology of the target species coupled with the intense enthusiasm of users. I have been working on using other fishery management plan frameworks as a guide for forming the hybrid conservation and fishery management plan for red abalone here in Oregon and it has illuminated some major differences between those established management plans and my work-in-progress plan. Mostly, I have found that we have limited quantitative data to work with when attempting to establish Harvest Control Rules, including biological reference points, total allowable catch and spawning potential ratios. This is a challenge I knew was on the horizon, but it does make it difficult to determine an effective strategy for management while still considering the conservation needs of this species. Currently, I am utilizing other frameworks in conjunction with unique fishery management techniques in other similar fisheries with limited data. In its completion, this would look like a limited fishery with established regions that will be managed separately based on index survey efforts and utilizing data from nearby fisheries that have a similar population structure but more established biological understanding and increased funding for monitoring. I am looking forward to creating a completed first draft in the coming months and continuing to further develop this unique management framework.

I am also enjoying the immersive and intersectional experience of working on a campus that connects the academic side of marine biology to the management side due to the close proximity of the University of Oregon Marine Biology campus with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife field station in Charleston. It is unique and helpful to have both entities as well as the fishing industry at the fishing plant Pacific all within one location!

Found a red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) – (look under the rock!) while in the field working with the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology Invertebrates course! Awesome to see the animal I am studying and drafting a management framework for in the field.

Finding the Conservation-Management Balance

Hello everyone!

My name is Kendall and I am a new Sea Grant scholar, a 2021-2022 Natural Resource Policy Fellow, stationed in Charleston on the south coast. I was matched with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at the south coast field office to work with management to develop a conservation and fishery management plan for a currently closed recreational fishery.

It has been a hectic and rewarding start to my fellowship so far! I have been researching conservation and fishery management plans and working with my fellowship host to build the framework for the imperiled red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) fishery. I already had a background in fisheries and particularly with the history of the red abalone fishery in Oregon, due to my position at ODFW as a shellfish biological aide prior to graduate school. What I did not have was a familiarity with the difficulties in creating a new type of management plan that considers multiple objectives and viewpoints that might counteract one another.

The most interesting revelation I have had so far during this process is that writing a conservation and fishery management plan is not common for fisheries, and is quite different from a typical fisheries management plan. The most imperative way it differs has to do with the concept that this management plan does not mean that there will be a fishery. Instead, there are two simultaneous objectives that could naturally be seen as opposites. The first objective is to protect and conserve the species in question, and the other objective is to develop a fishery for that same species. Working through this process so far has been a unique exercise in recognizing, appreciating and applying different stakeholder perspectives. Often it seems that agencies, organizations and individuals view these objectives as contrary to one another, and further, that one objective and perspective nullifies the other. My main task is to take each perspective and goal and find ways to merge the two together to benefit the red abalone population in Oregon, as well as honor the cultural, social and economic importance of the resource. I look forward to learning more about each perspective and working towards a common goal to create a sustainable, socially and biologically conscious fishery while continuing to explore the specifics of conserving an elusive and fascinating invertebrate species.