The Dynamics of Adaptation to Climate-Driven Variability in California Current Fisheries and Fishing Communities

California Current Project

The livelihoods of fishermen are heavily influenced by the variability inherent in biological and oceanic systems, as well as by the intrinsic uncertainty of economic and management structures (Fig. 1). However, as fishermen attempt to adapt to these changes by moving among fisheries, their actions may strongly impact them and their communities, as well as actively influence local ecosystem dynamics.

Overlap in participation creates interconnections between many fisheries. Many West Coast fishermen participate in multiple fisheries, moving between them throughout the year (Fig. 2), and adapting their participation in response to changes in relative profitability, spatial distributions, and regulations. A combination of natural, regulatory, spatial and technological factors may make participation in certain fisheries highly complementary while others are likely to be substitutes.

More than 1400 commercial fishermen responded to a mail survey that collected information about non-monetary motivations for fishing and household income diversification (Fig. 3). Over 93% said they prefer fishing to an alternative job with the same pay and only 30% indicated they would switch to a non-fishing job even if it paid up to 50% more. However, only 33% of households rely fully on fisheries for income and 53% of fishermen earn some money from activities other than fishing. This shows that fishing and other economic activities are integrated in complex ways that may contribute to resilience of fishing communities.

This project seeks to understand how environmental variability travels through, and is dampened or amplified by, linked social and ecological processes in West Coast fisheries. It will explore how more integrated management of fisheries might increase resilience and human benefits derived from them. The project is integrated into the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Climate and Communities Initiative.


National Science Foundation Award #1616821

NOAA Researchers: Dan Holland, Karma Norman, Kate Richerson (Northwest Fisheries Science Center), Nate Mantua (Southwest Fisheries Science Center)

Project Partners: Josh Abbott (Arizona State University; André Punt and Melissa Poe (University of Washington); Malin Pinsky (Rutgers)


  • National Science Foundation

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  • Arizona State University

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  • Rutgers University

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  • University of Washington

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  • Sea Grant

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Figure 1

Figure 1. A conceptual model of the California Current large marine ecosystem as a coupled natural human system with linkages between fisheries resulting from environmental variability and movement of fishermen between fisheries

Figure 2

Figure 2. 2016 total revenue by fishery for fleets of vessels defined by having revenue of Dungeness crab, salmon, or non-whiting groundfish over $5000

Figure 3

Figure 3. Number of mail survey responses from commercial fishermen, by county

California Current