Pacific mackerel
About Us

Southwest Fisheries Science Center

Conducting scientific research to ensure that the region's marine and anadromous fish, marine mammal, marine turtle and invertebrate populations remain at healthy and sustainable levels, as functioning parts of their ecosystems and continue to enhance the quality of life for the public.

Our Location

Map of West Coast Region with Southwest labs labeled.
Research conducted at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) encompasses the waters of the California Current and adjacent inland watersheds, bays and estuaries of California. Extending along the U.S. West Coast from Canada to Mexico, the California Current is characterized by some of the most dramatic annual, interannual and decadal environmental variability in the world. Waters of the California Current are used for recreation and commerce, and support valuable commercial, tribal, and recreational fisheries for fish and invertebrates, including sardine, anchovy, rockfish, salmon, squid, abalone, tunas, sharks and billfish. These waters are also home to many protected species, including marine mammals, marine turtles, and seabirds, which inhabit the California Current or are among the highly migratory species from the broader Pacific Ocean that use the California Current as a nursery area, migratory corridor, and feeding ground. Scientists of the SWFSC also conduct research throughout the Pacific Ocean and in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.

What We Do

Center scientists conduct marine biological, ecological and oceanographic research, observations and monitoring of living marine resources and their environment. We also conduct research on the impacts of environmental variability and climate on marine ecosystems and on fishery and conservation socio-economics. Center scientists work with numerous partners and our NOAA Fisheries counterparts—the Northwest, Pacific Islands and Alaska Fisheries Science Centers and the West Coast Regional Office—to provide sound science for national and international management decisions.

The center provides science and innovation in several key areas:

Monitoring and Assessment for Sustainable Fisheries and the Recovery of Threatened and Endangered Species

Researcher holding chinook salmon
  • Evaluations and stock assessments of coastal pelagic species (sardine, anchovy, market squid), highly migratory fishes (tuna, albacore, shark, and billfish), Pacific coast groundfish and salmon, invertebrates (abalone), marine mammals and marine turtles

  • Scientific advice in support of the regional Fishery Management Councils many other national and international fisheries organizations, commissions and conventions.

Ecosystem Observations and the Impacts of Environmental Variability and Climate on Fisheries and Protected Species  

Satellite map of chlorophyll a concentration off the US West Coast for Sept. 2017
  • NOAA’s longest time series and largest scale ecosystem-based monitoring surveys in the California Current, Eastern Tropical Pacific, Central Pacific and Southern Ocean provide the scientific information for ecosystem-based management of living marine resources in a changing climate.

  • Assessment and prediction of the effects of climate and environmental variability - from global to local scales - that is important to fish populations, protected species, marine ecosystems and the people that depend upon them.

  • Development of web-based access to a wide variety of oceanographic and biological data providing the most powerful interface to major marine, atmosphere and remote sensing datasets on the web today.

Innovation and Technological Development

NOAA Fisheries scientists deploying a hexacopter
  • Research and development of advanced acoustic and visual technologies for fisheries and habitat studies to improve the accuracy, precision and efficiency of fisheries surveys and thus resulting stock assessments using multi-frequency acoustic systems, remotely operated vehicles, instrumented buoys and autonomous underwater vehicles.

  • Research and development of passive acoustics methods for the detection and identification of marine mammals from their sounds and the use of aerial photogrammetry to study individual health and population abundance.

  • Advancement of molecular ecology studies and the world’s largest collection of marine mammal, marine turtle and California Current fish tissue used to determine health, population structure and the “units to conserve” using state-of-the-art genetic methods.

Design and Implementation of New Paradigms in Fisheries Management

Penguins in Antarctica
  • Pioneering innovative socioeconomic solutions to trans-boundary and trans-national ecosystem-based fisheries management issues and leadership in international conservation economics.

  • Design and implementation of new strategies for the management of marine mammals based on the precautionary principle incorporated into the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

  • Development and successful implementation of ecosystem-based management in Antarctica for the conservation objectives of the Antarctic Treaty through a precautionary approach that minimizes risk associated with harvesting practices and takes into account the needs of dependent predators and climate variability.

Education, Training, Engagement and Public Access to Data for an Informed Society

Researcher on beach during capacity building effort
  • Education and training of the next generation in partnership with California’s leading universities.

  • Collaborative research with recreational and commercial fishing industries.

  • Opportunities for capacity building through collaborative research with international partners.

  • Public engagement projects with the local fishing and culinary community and with local artists

  • Opportunities for citizen science.

  • Access to scientific data and library and online access to publications and reports.

Our Leadership

Toby Garfield, Ph.D.

Director/Acting Science and Research Director

Toby Garfield became the director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center’s Environmental Research Division in 2013 and is currently serving as the Center’s Acting Director of Science and Research. Toby is a physical oceanographer, spending the last 25 years studying the California Current Large Marine. Toby earned his BA in geology from Williams College (1973), an MSc in Marine Sciences from the University of Delaware (1977) and a PhD in physical oceanography from the University of Rhode Island (1990).

Kristen Koch

Deputy Director

Kristen Koch has been the Deputy Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center since November 2009. In this capacity, she oversees the administrative needs of 300 scientists and support staff and three laboratories. Previously, Kristen was the Deputy Ecosystem Goal Team Lead in Silver Spring, MD (2007-2009) where she oversaw NOAA's $1.5 billion ecosystem portfolio. In this position, she was responsible for strategic planning and management of NOAA's nine ecosystem programs crossing four NOAA Line Offices (NMFS, NOS, OAR and NESDIS).
Management Team
Directorate Office
Ships and Infrastructure
Roger Hewitt, Ph.D. ,
Assistant Director

Director's office
Sarah Mesnick, Ph.D. ,
Ecologist/Science Liaison

Information Technology Services
Thanh Vu ,
Director (Acting)

Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division
George Watters, Ph.D.

Research Fishery Biologist

Fisheries Ecology Division
Steve Lindley, Ph.D.


Fish Genetics and Aquaculture
Russ Vetter, Ph.D. ,
Senior Scientist

Fisheries Resources Division
Gerard DiNardo

Division Director

Marine Mammal and Turtle Division
Lisa Ballance, Ph.D.


Marine Mammal and Turtle
Robert L. Brownell, Jr. Ph.D. ,
Senior Scientist

Operations, Management and Information Division
Meghan Donahue