Project: California Fisheries


The Marine Life Management Act (MLMA), enacted in 1998, was intended to modernize California’s management of its ocean fisheries. However, some features of the law itself, as well as its interpretation, have arguably limited the MLMA’s impact. In addition, state fisheries managers, commissioners, and the fishing community at-large have been unable, due to data gaps, high compliance costs, funding and capacity constraints and other limitations, to implement key provisions of the law.

We seek to further understand how California manages ocean fisheries under the MLMA and fisheries regulations to begin to research and identify future state and federal opportunities for state-managed fisheries and, where fisheries management improvements warrant consideration, explore when and how to make those opportunities actionable.

A brown pelican and a California fishing fleet. Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons.

Project Updates

We continue to see promising results with our California Fisheries program, gaining significant buy-in from our California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Fish and Game Commission management partners on our work to develop decision support tools to aid in their decision-making processes. Specifically, in 2014-2015, the Center used its third round of funding from the Resources Legacy Fund to focus on two key areas of research and engagement:

Tracking Fisheries Management Performance Using Metrics:


The Center for Ocean Solutions team, featuring researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, is creating a flexible framework to track management performance under the goals and requirements of the Marine Life Management Act. This framework will provide relevant indicators to quantitatively and qualitatively measure California state fisheries management outcomes, helping managers to highlight future management needs and prioritize their limited resources. A series of constructive feedback sessions with a range of experts in California fisheries science and management have resulted in broader support for the project and have increased the credibility and salience of the products in development over the past year. The Center’s team was also invited to share early phases of this research in the journal Fisheries Research. Building on exstensive research and an iterative expert feedback process, COS developed a robust conceptual framework that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will soon review and pilot test.


Increasing State Capacity to Engage Fishery Stakeholders: 


The Center’s staff is collaborating with the consulting firm Kearns and West to build a decision-support tool for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Fish and Game Commission to aid their staff in choosing which stakeholder engagement strategies may be most appropriate in various decision contexts. The online tool will help staff identify their engagement goals, when they can strategically engage stakeholders based on their needs and the fishery characteristics that will inform how engagement strategies are tailored to specific contexts. The current draft of the tool and its associated user manual have benefitted from a series of positive and productive discussions with California fisheries managers and engagement experts from around the country over the past year.

The next phase of this work will include prototyping an online version of the decision-support tool to be reviewed and vetted by managers and stakeholder end-users in 2016. The Center’s California Fisheries project is a part of a larger collaborative effort between the academic, agency, philanthropic and NGO communities to develop tools and synthesize the best available information to update the Department and Fish and Game Commission’s Master Plan for Fisheries in 2017.

COS staff continue to engage in a statewide effort to contribute to the California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s (Department) update to their Master Plan for fisheries management. In collaboration with managers, scientists and other key stakeholders, COS completed piloting and is currently finalizing a practical, flexible framework to track management performance under the goals and requirements of the California Marine Life Management Act (MLMA). COS staff continue to collaborate with the Department, the Fish & Game Commission, the consulting firm Kearns and West and computer scientists at University of California, Santa Barbara, to provide online and paper versions of a decision-support tool to aid Department staff in choosing appropriate stakeholder engagement strategies in various decision contexts. Fully vetted versions of the performance assessment framework and the stakeholder engagement decision-support tool will be available in mid-2017, in sync with the State’s plan to complete a Draft Master Plan Amendment for the MLMA.


Center for Ocean Solutions California Fisheries Team:
Project Leads:  Ashley Erickson (assistant director of law and policy, project lead)
Research Analyst and Early Career Fellows: Lucie Hazen (research analyst), Elodie Le Cornu (research analyst), Angee Doerr (coupled human-natural systems research associate), Don Gourlie (law and policy fellow)