December 6, 2017

Story: California Fisheries Project Wraps Up

By: Elizabeth Ramsay

After four successful years of hard work and collaboration with fishery scientists and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, our California Fisheries portfolio officially wrapped up as of Fall 2017. This body of work focused on studying the effectiveness of the Marine Life Management Act (MLMA), scoping transferable practices and developing decision support tools to improve compliance, and bolster efficiency and transparency in the State’s fisheries management. 

Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) first engaged in conversation with key players in California fisheries in 2013 because the MLMA Master Plan, originally drafted in 2001, was due for an overhaul. The MLMA was intended to modernize California's fisheries management. However, some features of the law itself, as well as its interpretation, have arguably limited the Act's intended impact. In addition, full implementation of this ecosystem-based law has been difficult to achieve due to data gaps, high compliance costs and funding and capacity constraints. 

Our team therefore proceeded with two projects to meet pressing needs; first to address the challenge of efficient and meaningful stakeholder engagement in fisheries management, and second to determine how well the MLMA is being implemented so that gaps in management could be identified. For the first task, in partnership with Kearns and West, our team developed and tested an online Stakeholder Engagement Decision Support Tool that can be used not only by California Department of Fish and Wildlife, but also by other resource management agencies to improve communication and collaboration with local stakeholders. This dynamic tool, which helps agencies gauge which engagement strategies to use based on available time, resources, and primary objectives, is already being put into practice by fisheries managers. 

The second component of the project, co-developed with California Department of Fish and Wildlife staff and other fisheries experts, was a MLMA-based Assessment framework that evaluates management process and outcomes according to the law, helping managers highlight management needs and prioritize their limited resources. Building the framework involved an iterative process of constructive feedback and pilot testing with a range of experts in fisheries science and management which resulted in a well-vetted tool and broader support for the project as a whole. These sessions also increased the credibility of the products in development over the past four years. COS has developed a robust and practical framework that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will soon put into action.  

COS research analyst Elodie Le Cornu reflected on the unique project opportunity to work with state managers, fisheries scientists and the fishing community. "This unique interdisciplinary approach can truly lead to the success and efficiency in fisheries management," she said. "Working with Fish and Wildlife key staff and other fisheries experts all at the same time was most beneficial." 

The lessons learned from this project highlight the importance of taking a truly interdisciplinary approach for creating fisheries management tools that consider stakeholder needs and values as well as diverse management objectives. “NGO representatives have referred to our work as a solid, unbiased and robust assessment approach with the potential for transferability to fisheries outside of California,” said Lucie Hazen, a COS research analyst who has worked on this project from the beginning. The team is hopeful that their work and methodology can eventually be applied to a variety of fisheries management contexts in the future as the frameworks they developed continue to evolve and respond to a changing ocean. 


MLMA Assessment Framework Contacts:

Lucie Hazen:

Elodie Le Cornu:

Stakeholder Engagement Contact:

Angee Doerr: