Commercial fisheries are coupled human-natural systems that cross state borders and integrate private, public, academic sectors and interests. These systems integrate complicated relationships between coastal socioeconomics, resource management and environmental realms. Previous findings from West Coast-based studies have identified aging trends in commercial fisheries participation, commonly referred to as the “graying of the fleet.” In Oregon alone economic, biological and regulatory factors differ greatly among major commercial fisheries, suggesting that differing “graying” trends in participation between fisheries is plausible. Direct examination of participation differences between fisheries, as well as the factors that contribute to the connection between potential differences and graying remains a gap in fisheries-related social science research. This study approached these gaps through semi-structured interviews that examined human connections to commercial fisheries from the perspective of Oregon port community members and individuals directly engaged in Oregon’s fishing industry. This study found that that port community members (community of place) and fishing community members (community of interest) did perceive differences in aging trends among four commercial fisheries: Albacore tuna (Thunnus alalunga), salmon (Oncorhynchus spp), groundfish and Dungeness crab (Cancer magister). While significant participation barriers were cited in each of these fisheries, all species-specific aging trends were tied to compounded human, biological and ecological factors.
Qualitative analysis of the four fisheries showed disproportionally strong interest in participating in the Dungeness crab (crab) fishery. Strong ties between port communities and the fishery in economic and socio-cultural realms were identified as well, suggesting a level of community reliance on the fishery. The most significant barrier to crab fishery participation is related to an increase in annual harmful algal bloom (HAB)-related crab fishery closures that have altered when and where fishermen are able to fish every season since 2015. Because HAB events are expected to increase as climate change progresses, these closures could significantly reduce access to the fishery over time. Findings suggest high reliance on the fishery with few opportunities to minimize risk through diversification in winter months; these factors may lower crab fishery resilience in the face of increased HABs. This study contributes to a growing body of research that examines factors of vulnerability, resilience and adaptive capacity in both coastal communities of place and interest in response to changing ocean conditions and fisheries management measure. Results from this study are timely as they contribute to other research initiatives investigating how projected closures around a HAB increase will impact management, fishing reliant communities and the commercial seafood market.
Funding Statement (additional comments about funding)
Findings in this project and the NRT “Connecting crabs, currents, and coastal communities: A transdisciplinary approach to examining the impacts of a potential Dungeness crab distribution shift under changing ocean conditions” were made possible by the NSF-NRT award #1545188, “Risk and uncertainty quantification and communication in marine science and policy”.