Ecological Risk Assessment as a Prioritization Tool to Support California Fisheries Management

California Current Project

To comply with the Marine Life Management Act, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife sought a systematic, efficient, and transparent approach to prioritize particular fisheries for management attention.

The assessment framework developed by NOAA IEA scientists Samhouri and Levin (2012) provided a tool that managers used to understand the relative potential risk (exposure and sensitivity; Fig. 1) posed by fishing activities to target species, bycatch species, and marine and estuarine habitats.

The project team, led by California Ocean Science Trust scientists in close collaboration with NOAA scientists Jameal Samhouri and Joe Bizzarro, piloted and tested this risk assessment tool on nine fisheries (Fig. 2). Of those 9 fisheries, the greatest relative risk to:

  • Target species was for white sturgeon in the sport hook and line fishery
  • Bycatch species was posed by the California halibut commercial gillnet and trawl fisheries (Fig. 3)
  • Habitat was shown to those bottom habitats affected by the California halibut commercial trawl fishery

This project represents one example of how a scientific product developed by the CCIEA program has direct application to State fisheries management efforts.

The risk assessment approach provided an inclusive process involving public stakeholders, scientists, and fishery experts that set the stage for broad buy-in and adoption of management recommendations.

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Figure 1

Figure 1. Generalized representation of how ecological risk assessment results can be interpreted

Figure 2

Figure 2. Nine California fisheries (units of analysis representing a species, gear type, & sector combination) selected for the pilot risk analysis

Figure 3

Figure 3. Bycatch species risk assessment results for the pilot risk analysis

California Current