A human perspective for California fisheries management

Katherine Leitzell

Social science research can provide a human systems perspective that will allow California to better manage fisheries. However, guidance for gathering and incorporating this information into management has been limited. That process is now defined and explained in Socioeconomic Guidance for Implementing the California Marine Life Management Act, co-authored by California Sea Grant Extension Specialist Carrie Pomeroy, who is based at the University of California Santa Cruz.

“Fisheries management is people management,” says Pomeroy. “Effective management requires understanding what, how, and why people do what they do, and how they affect and are affected by management. Social science is the systematic study of human things—including these human dimensions of fisheries—and is key to achieving ecological and socioeconomic goals and objectives for fisheries.” 

The guidance, developed in collaboration with environmental scientists at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and UC Santa Cruz, provides information and processes for CDFW to use in developing fishery management plans and related documents for state-managed fisheries in California.

The guidance was developed as part of the state’s process to amend the California Marine Life Management Act (MLMA) Master Plan. The MLMA, passed in 1998, requires more holistic management of fisheries, and includes both socioeconomic and ecological goals. But to achieve those goals, managers need information and insight from social scientists like Pomeroy, who has spent her career studying the human dimensions of fisheries and broader marine policy.

“People and social systems are integral to fisheries. MLMA objectives recognize this,” says Pomeroy. “In order to inform management, and determine whether those objectives are being met, it’s really important to understand the human dimensions of fisheries — who’s involved, what they do on the water and shoreside — and how they interact with and depend on one another and the ecological system. It’s not just how people interact with each other in terms of fishing, but the whole system, including management, coastal communities, and the larger human system.”

Given the complexity of fisheries social systems, the guidance is not a cookbook approach for building and using socioeconomic information. Rather, it provides a primer on the types of social scientific questions and information needs most relevant to fishery management and a stepwise, scientific process for iteratively developing and using that information, supplemented by a guide to data sources and other information resources. It also highlights examples in California and provides synopses of other relevant literature to illustrate diverse approaches to developing and using socioeconomic information in fishery management.

Key to the guidance is a series of recommendations to guide CDFW efforts moving forward. These begin with inventorying available information sources and data, drafting narratives that provide a concise, grounded history of fisheries’ human systems, and engaging social scientists with relevant expertise to help guide the development and use of socioeconomic information. For the longer term, the guidance recommends building regional and statewide social baselines, scoping to identify emerging information needs, and developing and implementing a plan to systematically collect and analyze data for application across fisheries and communities.

Both the state and federal fisheries management policy require managers to consider socioeconomic information. The challenge for managers has been in understanding how to build, evaluate, and incorporate this information, and the guidance will help build this capacity, says Pomeroy.

The report, Socioeconomic Guidance for Implementing the California Marine Life Management Act, was co-authored by Carrie Pomeroy, California Sea Grant; Debbie Aseltine-Neilson, CDFW; Ryan Bartling, CDFW; and Nicole Georgilas, UC Santa Cruz. For more information please contact Carrie Pomeroy or Debbie Aseltine-Neilson: debbie.aseltine-neilson@wildlife.ca.gov

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