Human Integrated Ecosystem Based Fishery Management, Research Strategy 2021-2025: Executive Summary
This decade presents unique opportunities to realize a vision of interdisciplinary marine resource management that balances conservation, preservation, industry profitability, food production, jobs, and human wellbeing.
The core mission of NOAA Fisheries is to maximize the net benefits to the Nation from our marine resources. Managing marine ecosystems requires solutions that define what the best uses of our resources are – and to consider economic and social drivers side-by-side with biological and other environmental elements of the ecosystem. Achieving this requires understanding the benefits and costs of different ocean uses and actions, which involves data collection, economic and other statistical analyses, and the creation of strategies and solutions that provide the right incentives to fishers and other stakeholders to use resources efficiently and sustainably. Humans and the environment are not separate boxes to study, but parts of a coupled system that requires interdisciplinary science and policy analysis to effectively and sustainably manage. The increasingly dynamic physical, ecological, economic, and social environment in which we live makes the timely analysis of our human-natural ecosystem more valuable than ever.
NOAA Fisheries’ Economics and Human Dimensions Research Program (Program) performs an essential role in enabling NOAA Fisheries to achieve its mission of science-based stewardship of the Nation's living marine resources. Integration of economics and human dimensions research into NOAA’s science portfolio helps ensure that scientific findings inform key management decisions and provide the greatest benefits possible. The Program informs decision makers and the public of economic and other social trade-offs in fishery regulatory decisions, in protected species actions, and among competing ocean and coastal uses such as wind energy and whale watching. The Program also contributes to the development of innovative and cost-effective management frameworks that aim to achieve the greatest level of conservation at the lowest cost which is a central element of NOAA’s mission. While in the past integration has been done successfully, we now have opportunities – and needs – to expand this integration to address a more dynamic environment and global seafood market.
Robust economic and social analyses provide improved management, healthier ecosystems, better seafood, more profitable businesses, innovative interdisciplinary science, and more sustainable communities through more efficient and well informed trade-offs and a better understanding of how Americans value and use our marine resources. We have the opportunity to better integrate social and natural science and management to achieve ‘Human Integrated Ecosystem Based Fishery Management’.
Overview - Human Integrated Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management (HI-EBFM)
This decade presents unique opportunities to realize a vision of interdisciplinary marine resource management that balances conservation, preservation, industry profitability, food production, jobs, and human wellbeing. NOAA Fisheries’ Economics and Human Dimensions Research Program is a world-class social science research program that provides economic and sociocultural information and analysis that informs marine resource management decision-making undertaken to achieve healthy marine ecosystems and resilient coastal communities and economies. More than any other nation, the US has recognized that managing ecosystems is about managing people and that effective and efficient regulations can greatly increase the benefits to the Nation from our oceans.
Central to NOAA’s mission is the recognition that mangers have to make tradeoffs among competing potential resource users. Tradeoffs are a core concept of economics and Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management (EBFM), which aims specifically to “enable better decisions regarding trade-offs among and between fisheries (commercial, recreational, and subsistence), aquaculture, protected species, biodiversity, and habitats.” Similarly, the U.S. National Standards provide 10 key areas that NOAA Fisheries must consider when managing the Nation’s marine resources, which include fishing communities. The effective usage of socioeconomic data and research can create win-win management measures that create a healthier environment and more prosperous and resilient communities and businesses. Regardless of whether one prioritizes conservation, community resilience, or seafood business profitability, Human Integrated EBFM enables the best tradeoffs among competing uses of our oceans.
Key analytical mandates for the Program stem from agency policies, federal legislation and executive orders, including the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act. To fulfill these mandates, Program staff undertake data collection, benefit-cost analysis, economic and social impact analysis, and assessments of equity, safety, and environmental justice. These assessments are used by the Agency and the Fishery Management Councils to inform management decisions. Beyond these specifically mandated analyses, Program staff conduct economic and human dimensions research to better understand fisheries and marine resource management issues. This research can help frame an emerging management issue in a particular region or contribute to national policy creation and improvement. Several recent strategic documents, such as the NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy and NOAA’s Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management Policy and Roadmap, have highlighted the importance of economic and social analysis.
One of the challenges in defining the focus of economic and social research in NOAA Fisheries is the wide variety of issues across which the Program operates. From spatial management to bycatch reduction, from protected resources to seafood markets, from catch shares to community vulnerability, researchers and analysts provide diverse contributions to a breadth of topics central to NOAA’s mission. This makes it challenging to narrowly define research priorities for the Program, as a better understanding of the many aspects of human behavior can greatly improve marine resource management. Here we label the widespread integration of human and natural science and data as ‘Human Integrated Ecosystem Based Fishery Management’ (HI-EBFM), recognizing the necessary and expansive role of social science in EBFM.
Currently, the Program has 58 economists and 14 human dimension scientists with expertise in anthropology, sociology, and marine resource management (see Figure 1). We note that the designations of ‘human dimensions’ and ‘social science’ can be ambiguous at times because they both can include economics, but given the large proportion of Program staff who are economists and our many economics mandates, we separately denote economists as a group of specialists. Staff are distributed among twelve locations, including six science centers, five regional offices, and the Office of Science and Technology (F/ST) and the Office of Sustainable Fisheries (F/SF) at NOAA Fisheries Headquarters.
F/ST serves as the national coordinating body for the Agency’s research at the science centers while F/SF fulfills a similar role the regional offices. The efforts include a wide variety of contributions from economists and social scientists across NOAA to scientific advisory bodies, management reviews and analyses, and diverse initiatives to support our partner management organizations. A Senior Scientist for Economics position was created in 2011 and filled in 2013.
Human Integrated (HI)-EBFM Five-year Plan
To implement Human Integrated EBFM, the Program will continue to emphasize its core areas of research, but will conduct a range of innovative work that will best meet the three primary goals articulated in the NOAA Fisheries Strategic Plan:
- Amplify the economic value of fisheries while ensuring their sustainability.
- Conserve and recover protected species while supporting responsible fishing and resource development.
- Improve organizational excellence and regulatory efficiency.
The central actions across the primary themes of the Program can be summarized as: 1) Investigate and Understand, 2) Integrate and Predict, and 3) Communicate Science. Here we elaborate on these three organizing principles and describe key specific steps that we will take.
Investigate and understand. Across the Program, research is a central component of our work. This includes collecting data, examining statistical relationships, and communicating with stakeholders and other scientists to better understand what factors drive human interactions with the marine ecosystem. Specifically, we will:
- Expand our understanding of how to achieve the greatest benefits from our living marine resources through cutting-edge research and accurate and reliable data.
- Extend our research on seafood markets and trade, helping to ensure seafood resiliency for the Nation.
- Conduct research focused on addressing the primary needs of decision makers and our diverse stakeholders by accelerating efforts to apply the research in NOAA Fisheries Science Centers to priority management needs of NOAA Fisheries Regional Office resource managers and Fishery Management Councils.
Integrate and Predict. The integration of economic, social, biological, oceanographic, and other data provides the most comprehensive understanding of our relationship with marine resources. Predicting the effects of fishery management actions and the long-term effects of rapidly changing environmental drivers is foundational to this science program. We will:
- Integrate economics and social science into all core aspects of NOAA Fisheries from climate prediction to next generation stock assessment to minimize the costs of effective and robust conservation and expand the benefits. We will build on successful regional models to include economics and human dimensions knowledge and insights throughout key analyses and research projects.
- Develop, implement, and use data and modeling tools that efficiently and effectively combine data and models in a timely manner to address the Nation’s primary marine resource management challenges.
- Evaluate the role of aquaculture and offshore energy on all aspects of our ecosystem and coastal communities, including fishery interactions.
- Address climate change challenges, including effects of shifting stocks, changes in productivity, ocean acidification, increased harmful algal blooms and storm events, on seafood sustainability and community resiliency.
Communicate Science. Effective communication involves both publishing science in leading peer-reviewed journals and pursuing multiple means to reach diverse stakeholders and decision makers. We will:
- Communicate scientific and policy knowledge by creating innovative outreach products and diverse scientific publications that increase public literacy in the areas of marine resource economics and human dimensions of marine ecosystems. Communicating and collaborating with diverse stakeholders will be a priority.
- While COVID-19 has interrupted scientific communication and collaboration, it has also presented new opportunities as national, regional, and international science and management organizations remotely share scientific and practical perspectives. NOAA Fisheries economists and social scientists will continue to take a leading role integrating natural and social marine sciences.
- Publish peer-reviewed research.
- Inform Congress, resource managers and the public about the long-term impacts of COVID-19 and contribute to the effective adaption of business, communities, and consumers to the crisis. Just as COVID-19 analyses built upon our history of assessing the impacts of hurricanes and other disasters, this experience will enables us to help the Nation better adapt to future crises and climate change impacts.
The remainder of this document describes the Program’s ongoing and future work, organized into five applied themes through which we implement the three pillars of the program above: commercial fisheries economics, recreational fisheries economics, human dimensions, integrated ecosystem research, and communications research. Our discussion of these themes is structured by goals that reflect both Agency priorities and, to the extent possible, the Program’s organizational structure.
Commercial Fisheries Economics
The NOAA Fisheries Commercial Fisheries Economics theme includes a wide range of commercial fisheries data collection, economic analyses, and related activities. These efforts enable NOAA Fisheries to assess the magnitude and distribution of the costs and benefits associated with fisheries management actions and directly supports Fishery Management Council decisions. This research theme directly supports NOAA Fisheries’ stewardship goal of maximizing benefits to the Nation while ensuring the long-term sustainability of all living marine resources.
Goal 1: Monitor and assess the economic status of commercial fishery participants and fishing-related firms.
Economic data underpin all of NOAA Fisheries’ economic assessments. These data, collected by NOAA Fisheries and its state partners, are essential to understanding the status and trends of the fishing industry, marine-related businesses, food security and trade balances, and consumer benefits. NOAA Fisheries conducts a suite of baseline economic assessments that support fishery management and conservation measures, underscore the importance of the fishing industry to community and state economies, and may also be used as signals for identifying economic hardship in its early stages of crises such as hurricanes or marine heat waves.
Priority Research Activities
- Collect economic data from U.S. fishing fleets and fishing-related businesses throughout the full supply chain (e.g., seafood dealers, seafood processors, wholesale and retail markets).
- Generate economic and financial profiles of fishing fleets that include various estimates of economic returns for use in various fisheries management documents. These financial assessments also help the Agency meet requirements under the Regulatory Flexibility Act to understand the financial implications of proposed management actions.
- Assess the economic performance of catch share and non-catch share fisheries (see Box 1) using a standard suite of indicators that evaluate economic returns and efficiency.
- Conduct economic surveys to assess damages to provide timely disaster relief for impacted fishery participants and fishing communities due to natural and human-made disasters, including those related to climate change (e.g., hurricanes, red tide, and harmful algal blooms)
- Estimate the economic contribution (e.g., jobs, income, sales, value added) of commercial fishing and the seafood industry to local and national economies, including changes from proposed management options (see Box 2).
Box 1. Economic Performance of Catch Share Programs
Nationwide, there are 17 federal catch share programs currently in operation. Six of the eight Federal Fishery Management Councils have implemented at least one program; the Alaska region has the most programs. Since 2012, the economic performance of catch share fisheries has been tracked using a standard set of indicators that are uniformly applied across these highly diverse programs. These include revenue, quota utilization, and prices; fishing capacity; distributional effects; and a limited number of metrics for characterizing the management context (whether quotas are increasing/decreasing, whether the annual quota was exceeded, whether the race for fish has been eliminated). Similar metrics have been applied to select non-catch share fisheries.
Box 2. Economic Contribution of Seafood Industry and Saltwater Angler Expenditures
Recreational fishing and the commercial fishing and seafood industry are important drivers of coastal economies and contribute to sustainable working waterfronts. NOAA Fisheries measures the contribution of these sectors to local and national economies by developing models to estimate associated economic impacts, e.g., jobs, sales, value-added, to gross domestic (state) product. These models are also applied to assess how changes in fishery regulations and natural or human-made disasters may affect a regional economy and its dependence on fishing and other seafood sector activities.
Goal 2: Understand and forecast changes in benefits and trade-offs associated with proposed management options, including under changing environmental conditions.
A critical part of the responsibilities of NOAA Fisheries is considering economic aspects of regulation of commercial fisheries. National Standards in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, along with Executive Orders and other mandates, require NOAA to estimate the costs and benefits of regulatory options under consideration and understand their impacts. In addition, it is increasingly important to consider the effects of environmental changes and variation on harvesters’ behavior. Predicting fishery changes and the trade-offs of regulations in a changing environment requires models that incorporate these drivers. Providing this information to Fishery Management Councils in a timely manner allows for more robust and inclusive consideration of management alternatives.
Priority Research Activities
- Develop bioeconomic models to specify the optimal yield (OY) for individual fisheries or FMPs, in order to fulfill the National Standard 1 requirement to specify maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and optimal yield (OY).
- Create, maintain and enhance benefit-cost models for assessing trade-offs of regulations (e.g., gear restrictions, time and area closures, bycatch limits, rebuilding plans), proposed projects affecting fisheries (e.g., offshore energy, dam removal), and fishery and fishing community impacts arising from disasters (e.g., oil spills, hurricanes, drought, COVID-19).
- Enable evaluation of fishery management policies (including input and output controls and incentive-based approaches) with models that characterize the cost structure of fishing businesses (e.g., supply/profit/cost models), predict fishery participation and fleet dynamics, and integrate dynamic ecological and human processes in commercial fisheries models.
- Utilize models to evaluate and predict fishery changes driven by environmental change and variation (e.g., temperature, upwelling, hypoxia, ocean acidification) and the response of fishers, such as changes in targeting, timing, and location of fishing.
- Support fishery policy decision-making through directly serving on interdisciplinary teams that help craft and evaluate regulatory options and policies that incentivize behavior leading to desired outcomes, providing research findings that help frame fishery management issues, and developing decision-support tools that increase understanding of fishery dynamics (e.g., the Capacity and Technical Efficiency Toolbox and FishSET [see Box 3]).
- Conduct economic analyses to support NOAA’s and the Department of State’s international responsibilities related to living marine resources.
Box 3. FishSET – Spatial Economics Toolbox
NOAA Fisheries and partners have developed the Spatial Economics Toolbox (FishSET) to improve information provided to managers of the economic tradeoffs among different uses of marine resources. FishSET provides tools for data management, model and model validation, and policy simulation. In Alaska, FishSET has been used to assess the impacts of closed areas, catch shares, climate change, and bycatch avoidance on commercial fisheries. A pilot application in the Gulf of Mexico grouper fishery assessed the effects of the grouper/tilefish catch share program. Additional applications of FishSET could include analysis of losses from fishing ground closures due to regulations, ocean energy sitings, and oil spills.
Goal 3: Monitor, assess and predict seafood markets, consumer preferences, and trade dynamics.
The Program conducts analyses to understand the markets for finfish, shellfish, and other marine resources. This includes the interaction between U.S. managed capture and aquaculture resources with foreign supplies, consumer preferences, direct markets, market structure, and seafood labeling. These studies cover markets at the retail level as well as other levels in the supply chain.
Priority Research Activities
- Construct seafood demand models that forecast how prices will be affected by changes in supply due to shocks such as fuel price changes, species catchability, or a regulatory action such as a change in fishing quota.
- Collect and analyze data on consumer seafood preferences. Areas of focus include sustainability certification, wild capture and aquaculture, and the incidence of price premiums throughout the supply chain.
- Summarize and describe the U.S. role in the global seafood trade over time including examining a) the interaction between U.S.-managed resources and foreign supplies, aquaculture, direct markets (e.g., consumer supported fisheries), market structure, and seafood labeling; and b) how these trends are influenced by changes in demand, and fishery and trade policies such as tariffs and import restrictions.
Goal 4: Contribute to innovative management that more efficiently and effectively balances policy objectives
Program researchers take diverse roles in analyzing proposed regulations and proposing possible solutions. Members of the Program have been involved in policy innovation, particularly using market-based approaches, throughout the country which has helped create an ever-more-effective management system. This type of innovation will be even more valuable in the future as the dynamics of the economy and environment impact the existing management systems.
Priority Research activities
- Catch share program design, evaluation, and improvements.
- Cross-species quota transfer programs as in place in Alaska flatfish and Iceland.
- Bycatch reduction incentive programs.
Recreational Fisheries Economics
The NOAA Fisheries Recreational Economics theme provides data, analysis, and expertise to assess the benefits and costs of alternative management actions, to prioritize management needs, and to facilitate policy design that maximizes societal benefits related to marine recreational fishing resources. NOAA recreational data collection and research also seeks to better understand stakeholder perceptions and preferences related to current fisheries management and ecosystem-based fisheries management. This is an important source of information for Fishery Management Councils in determining recreational management actions and in transparently informing decisions that have to be made across recreational, commercial, and other uses of fishery resources.
Goal 1: Monitor and assess the economic activities of recreational fishing participants and fishing-related businesses and their relationship with fishing communities.
Recreational fishing participants spend money on a variety of goods and services related to their fishing activities. These expenditures are associated with a single fishing trip or are goods that are purchased for use on multiple trips (such as a boat or fishing rods). NOAA Fisheries, in conjunction with its state partners, collects data from fishing participants to understand what they purchase, how much they spend, and how spending on recreational fishing contributes to local and regional economies. Data on other aspects of recreational fishing are also collected, such as from recreational fishing businesses (e.g., the for-hire sector that includes charter boats, headboats/partyboats, and guideboats). These data and the models they inform are useful for establishing a baseline description of the size and extent of recreational fishing activities and their effect on fishing-related industries in a region (e.g., bait and tackle shops, tournaments, and marinas). This information can also be used to assess community recreational fishing engagement and recreational fishing reliance. Changes in recreational fishing activity (demand) can be estimated in relation to changes in management policies, natural disasters, or other external economic or environmental events.
Priority Research Activities
- Conduct economic surveys to collect data on recreational fishing participants, and cost, revenue, and employment information from fishing-related businesses. Data includes information on prices and attributes of for-hire trips offered to recreational fishing participants.
- Estimate the economic contribution (e.g., jobs, income, sales, value added to gross domestic product) of recreational fishery participants to local and national economies, including potential changes in response to proposed management options (see Box 2).
- Investigate new methods for collecting information from recreational fishery participants and businesses. Methodological research is important for improving data accuracy, adapting to changing technology platforms (e.g., mail, online, and app-based survey methods and location tracking devices), and advancing efforts to collect data more efficiently.
- Conduct economic surveys to assess damages from natural and human-made disasters, including those related to climate change (e.g., hurricanes, red tide and harmful algal blooms), on recreational fishery participants and fishing communities.
Goal 2: Understand the preferences and behavior of recreational fisheries participants and businesses, and evaluate economic trade-offs associated with proposed management options.
In order to understand the benefits that recreational fishing provides to fishery participants, NOAA Fisheries collects data on a participant’s actual behavior (revealed preference data) as well as data under proposed hypothetical conditions (stated preference data). These data also can be used to estimate economic benefits associated with actual or proposed changes to recreational fishing activity. This information is needed in benefit-cost analyses which are often required by law and used to evaluate management options and projects that affect fisheries (such as dam removal), natural resource damage assessment (such as an oil spill), and allocation of quota among recreational and commercial sectors.
- Collect survey data to evaluate recreational fishing behavior and provide context for fishery management changes, calculate economic benefits, and inform conservation and management decisions (e.g., recreational choice demand and bioeconomic models).
- Conduct economic assessments such as how resource allocation decisions among user groups affect the economic value that recreational fishing participants place on the resource.
- Develop and expand the use of bioeconomic models of recreational fisheries to evaluate how fishing effort, catch, and benefits will vary across different management options.
Box 4. BLAST MODEL – Dynamic Decision Support Tool
The Bioeconomic Length-structured Angler Simulation Tool (BLAST) is a dynamic decision support tool for assessing the benefits associated with common recreational fishing management actions including changes in bag limits, season length, and re-building plans. This ecosystem approach to fisheries management that integrates recreational fishing behavior with age-structured stock assessment models provides insight into the short- and long-run effects of alternative policy options on both the economic and environmental health of recreational fisheries. Lauded by recreational fishing stakeholders for the transparency it brings to management decision-making, BLAST improves assessment quality while enabling economists to assess a greater number of management options in a fraction of the time. First implemented in the Northeast and approved for use by the Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils, an expansion of the BLAST model to the West Coast and Gulf of Mexico is currently in development.
Human Dimensions research focuses on the complex interactions among individuals, fishing communities, and coastal and marine ecosystems. Fishing communities comprise a wide range of participants beyond those directly involved in fishing (e.g., shore support businesses such as net makers, gear manufacturers, bait and tackle stores, and diverse businesses that provide services to fishery participants). Human Dimensions research recognizes and addresses the complexities of fishing communities and allows decision makers to assess management strategies to maintain thriving communities, while promoting sustainable fisheries and healthy ecosystems. The Program’s research in human dimensions seeks to highlight the strengths and vulnerabilities of coastal communities and their ability to respond and adapt to a rapidly changing ocean.
Goal 1: Monitor conditions and trends of fishing communities.
Fishery conservation and management measures are required to take into account the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities. Baseline information on the characteristics and features of these communities is an essential component for ensuring the sustained participation of fishing communities, as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act National Standard 8.
Priority Research Activities
- Collect data for community snapshots and/or community profiles to establish baseline conditions and evaluate changes over time.
- Monitor the well-being of fishing communities dependent on fishery resources.
- Conduct research towards new and/or updated Social Impact Assessment (SIA) methodologies, which are required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
- Characterize coastal communities in terms of history, livelihoods, diversity, sense of place, cultural identity, and formal and informal governance institutions.
Goal 2: Assess community vulnerability to changes in living marine resources.
Fishing communities can be vulnerable to disruption of fishery resources (e.g., changing abundance levels, shifts in geographic distribution of stocks) and to hazards (e.g., pandemics, flooding, hurricanes and coastal storms). The ability of communities to overcome these disruptions depends on their social, economic, and cultural characteristics, which vary from community to community, by region, and through time. Understanding how communities change over time requires baseline information to assess vulnerability and resilience historically and into the future (see Figure 2). With this baseline information, we can better understand and measure any increasing or decreasing social vulnerability and community resilience and help managers, communities, and individuals adapt to change.
Priority Research Activities
- Identify and document baseline conditions to assess community vulnerability and resilience.
- Evaluate the long-term social and economic benefits to communities from coastal and marine resources.
- Understand and quantify, where possible, social vulnerability and the factors that contribute to the resilience of communities that depend upon and engage with coastal and marine resources.
- Develop community social vulnerability indicator models and tools.
- Calculate the impacts of natural and human-made disasters, including COVID-19 and those related to climate change (e.g., hurricanes, red tide and harmful algal blooms), on fishery participants and fishing communities.
Goal 3: Monitor and assess the well-being of fishery participants.
The NOAA Fisheries human dimensions theme includes analyses to understand the well-being of fishery participants and fishing communities for use in federal management and policy making. Fishery participants in these studies include commercial, recreational, and subsistence harvesters and their families and related shoreside fishing-dependent businesses such as seafood dealers and processors, gear manufacturers, marine supply companies, and bait and tackle businesses.
Priority Research Activities
- Collect baseline and time series quantitative and qualitative information (e.g., surveys, focus groups, ethnographic interviews, and oral histories) to monitor social impacts from changing regulatory and climate conditions.
- Conduct social network analyses to understand relationships between community members and external groups.
- Evaluate food systems to determine the market pathways for fish after landing, including where they go (local, national, international) and how they are used (e.g., human or animal consumption and nutraceuticals) and consumer preferences that affect these pathways.
- Link assessments of marine ecosystem well-being with community and harvester well-being.
Goal 4: Examine diversity and address inequalities in community impacts, management outcomes, NOAA organizations, and the marine science community.
The NOAA Fisheries human dimensions theme has long focused on the need to describe and understand diverse communities and to respond to environmental justice goals and mandates (e.g., Executive Order 12898).
The increased awareness of racial challenges that pervade many aspects of American life reinforces the need to understand how marine resource management and environmental change impact diverse groups of Americans. The NOAA Fisheries Human Dimensions Program has studied this question for more than two decades and is focused on better recognizing that ocean and coastal environments – and management choices about them - have different impacts on different groups. Better defining the complexity of how people relate to the environment will enable us to improve resource access and increase the value for Americans of all genders and racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.
Priority Research Activities and Program Commitments
- As a specific step to increase diversity in our program, we will increase our support for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) focused educational collaborations such as the NOAA Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center (LMRCSC) to increase diversity within marine social science fields.
- Assess changing demographic characteristics (e.g., age, race, and gender) in fisheries.
- Understand special populations such as subsistence fishery participants (e.g., Pacific Islanders, Native Alaskans and Native Americans, and low-income and minority populations, as required by Executive Order 12898).
- Understand and integrate traditional or local ecological knowledge in management and policy- and decision-making.
- Focus on diversity in all hiring and work to ensure that diverse candidate pools are available for positions in the Program.
Integrated Ecosystem Research
Economic and human dimensions research are essential elements of managing natural resources in an ecosystem framework. Two Program goals that directly support an ecosystem-based management approach are 1) integrated modeling of human interactions with and dependence on marine ecosystems using frameworks such as Integrated Ecosystem Assessments (IEA) and Management Strategy Evaluations (MSE); and 2) valuation of goods and services provided by marine ecosystems, such as recreational opportunities, habitat for marine organisms, and cultural and aesthetic benefits.
Goal 1: Develop integrated ecosystem modeling approaches that couple humans and environment.
Marine ecosystems contain complex interconnections among ecosystem components, including the large roles played by humans. Economic and human dimensions research can contribute to understanding these relationships within marine ecosystems and to developing integrated models to support the conservation and management of marine and coastal resources. Modeling and evaluation frameworks may contribute to integrated ecosystem assessments (IEAs), management strategy evaluations (MSEs), and other frameworks that facilitate an ecosystem-based management approach. These frameworks further the Agency’s specific goals towards ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) and broader ecosystem-based management (EBM) research needs. Partnering with other NOAA scientists (biologists, ecologists, economists, human dimensions scientists, oceanographers, etc.) and academic partners will be essential to achieving this goal.
Priority Research Activities
- Partner with biologists, ecologists, economists, human dimensions scientists and other ecosystem scientists, as appropriate, to create conceptual and mathematical models, leveraging current ecosystem modeling approaches.
- Assess and evaluate relative and/or absolute changes in social, cultural, and economic sub-systems due to environmental variability and change.
- Develop socioeconomic scenarios to combine with integrated climate-ecosystem models to help fisheries management sustainably adapt to a variety of possible climate futures.
- Study existing and potential human community-level adaptations to environmental variability and change to understand what elements are most effective in mitigating impacts and what factors are important in adoption of those adaptation measures.
Goal 2: Assess the economic value of ecosystems and their components and how that value is impacted by human actions.
Ecosystem services are the outcomes of ecosystem functions that provide value to people. Identifying and valuing these services provides crucial information for understanding human interactions with and the benefits they derive from marine ecosystems. This enables managers to identify preferred strategies for sustaining – or enhancing - these ecosystem services.
Priority Research Activities
- Develop economic models to assess the trade-offs of an array of policies and actions that affect the provision of ecosystem goods and services, including recovering and/or downlisting protected species, designating marine wilderness areas, and reducing bycatch.
- Evaluate the trade-offs associated with marine spatial management such as for offshore energy or aquaculture siting options across NOAA Fisheries regions.
- Assess the benefits and costs of habitat recovery and restoration programs, habitat loss and degradation, and adaptive water management strategies.
- Identify and implement decision support models that inform current habitat management and restoration policy deliberations, such as the effort to maximize benefits from limited habitat restoration funds.
Goal 3: Improve the utilization of fishery data and responses to management changes in fishery stock assessments.
A core activity of NOAA Fisheries is the estimation of marine species abundance which allows fishers to sustainably and profitably harvest marine resources. An improved integration of new Program tools and research will directly increase the economic benefits that we derive from targeted fish populations.
Priority Research Activities
- Include economic models in the next generation stock assessment modeling effort, the Fisheries Integrated Modeling System (FIMS).
- Implement the recommendations SocioEconomic Aspects in Stock Assessments Workshop (SEASAW) and building on existing Program involvement in stock assessment review panels to implement HI-EBFM in the stock assessment process.
- Contribute to management strategy evaluation (MSEs) in all regions.
- Integrate the Program’s understanding of the management impacts of fishing behavior, which will ensure that changes in fishing performance data are properly interpreted as arising from management changes or fish population status when conducting stock assessments.
Communications and Stakeholder Research
The Program conducts research to better understand management objectives and public attitudes toward marine stewardship and public understanding of marine science. Key activities involve the development of innovative means of reaching diverse stakeholders and the scientific assessment of how effective outreach activities are.
Goal 1: Foster applied research to understand how to best design programs for public acceptance and adoption of sustainability-enhancing measures.
In most cases, designing programs that result in widespread acceptance or adoption of policies or management actions that benefit a fishery, a community, and/or society at large is not straightforward. Understanding the social, economic, or cultural drivers and program designs that lead to support, opposition, or indifference to specific stewardship guidance could lead to increased effectiveness, reduced cost, and increased enjoyment by commercial and recreational fishery participants and other fishing-related businesses – and the general public. It can also lead to improved outcomes for local coastal communities.
Priority Research Activities
- Examine incentives and successful adoption of specific programs or concepts across segments of a community (e.g., by population characteristics such as age, gender, profession, income, education level, race, ethnicity, or process design).
- Develop approaches to understand factors that influence community opinion leaders and elected officials, to learn from past experience, and to identify similar cases (e.g., other similar communities and scenarios) where one or more approaches may be appropriate.
- Increase understanding of stakeholder preferences and attitudes related to fisheries, protected resources, and ecosystem management objectives to inform economic and human dimensions research. In the coming years, we will expand our surveys to the users of our products to ensure that we understand the needs of resource managers and users as well as possible.
- Evaluate factors that constrain or facilitate the development and implementation of effective policies.
- Evaluate the most effective platforms of communication in a changing media landscape to enhance stakeholder and public awareness of Program activities and gauge their concerns.
Goal 2: Develop data visualization tools and outreach products that inform decision makers and stakeholders, and enhance public awareness of marine resource issues.
Data visualization tools can enable managers, stakeholders, and the general public to explore and analyze economic and social data. These tools – created in collaboration with agency data science experts - range from reporting basic information on landings and landings revenue to more advanced tools for exploring the economic performance of fleets (e.g., FishEYE), and the economic contribution of marine fisheries to state and regional economies (e.g., Fisheries Economics of the U.S. publications). The Social Indicators for Fishing Communities Mapping and Graphing Tool (see Box 5) allows users to explore the status of coastal communities and more fully understand their strengths and where pockets of vulnerable populations may reside.
Priority Research Activities
- Develop data visualization and decision support tools that improve access to information.
- Improve dissemination of and public access to data through development of web platforms (e.g., searchable databases and story maps) such as the Social Indicator Graphing and Mapping Tool.
- Standardize data integration methods, process, and code to promote easy access and tool improvement by other researchers and managers as well as members of the public.
Box 5. Social Indicators for Fishing Communities Mapping and Graphing Tool
Understanding community vulnerability – both its source and magnitude – is a crucial first step in building resilient communities. NOAA developed the social indicators to improve managers’ understanding of fishing community vulnerability and resilience to regulatory change for use in fisheries social impact assessments. The web-based mapping and graphing tool was designed to improve the analytical rigor of fisheries social impact assessments and to make the social indicators easily accessible to all stakeholders including managers, policy makers, NGOs, academics, and the public. The web tool includes data for multiple time periods and for over 4,600 communities in coastal counties in 23 states.
Next Generation Marine Resource Economics and Human Dimensions
This document provides a vision of how the work of the Program can more effectively benefit the Nation and achieve NOAA’s goals. The NOAA Fisheries Economics and Human Dimensions Program will continue to support science-based decision-making that more fully considers social, cultural, economic, and ecological factors – while also increasing the Program’s integration with our natural science counterparts (e.g., fisheries biologists, ecologists, geneticists, and oceanographers) leading to better management decisions. We will continue to strive for innovation across all of our Program’s themes.
Economic and human dimensions capacity within and outside NOAA Fisheries is furthered by continuing to build collaborative research opportunities. These opportunities include forming research teams that include colleagues with diverse backgrounds, experience, and institutional perspectives, as well as mentoring the next generation of marine resource economists, environmental and ecological anthropologists, and other social and interdisciplinary scientists. For example, we have continued to provide funding for the NOAA Fisheries - Sea Grant Marine Resource Economics Graduate Fellowship program and to fund the research of many students and postdoctoral researchers who will be tomorrow’s marine management and research leaders in and out of NOAA. Building better relationships with domestic fishery stakeholders and the general public through participation in regional data committees and advisory bodies, as well as international management organizations, is essential to increasing agency capacity in these research areas.
Specific additional steps we will take in coming years to enhance our communications and research capacity include:
- Produce outreach products that increase public literacy in the areas of marine resource economics and human dimensions of marine ecosystems.
- Publish annual reports (e.g., regional Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) reports and Fisheries Economics of the United States) and periodic reports (e.g., marine angler expenditure reports, catch share reports) to provide information on the economic, social, and cultural status of fisheries and fishing communities over time.
- Provide student incentives and mentoring opportunities such as fellowships, internships, and workshops to increase the number of trained marine resource economists, anthropologists, sociologists, and other social scientists.
- Actively participate in marine science organizations (e.g., the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES)) to enhance the creative exchange of scientific ideas with domestic and international counterparts and to improve management of global and transboundary resources.
- Lead and actively participate in primary marine resource economics and social science organizations, the International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade (IIFET) and the North American Association of Fisheries Economists (NAAFE), the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA), and other field-specific and interdisciplinary scientific organizations.
- Maintain and build cooperative research opportunities with a diverse range of researchers and institutions (e.g., academia, other government agencies), disciplines (e.g., ecologists, political scientists), fishery stakeholders (e.g., seafood processors, fishers, and dealers), and the general public (e.g., citizen science research, in line with the new NOAA Citizen Science Strategy).
BOX 6: Looking Ahead: Next Generation Fisheries Economics and Human Dimensions
Beyond the future directions mentioned herein, there are global changes occurring that the Economic and Human Dimension research program must be prepared to address. Similar to other scientific disciplines, economics and other social sciences are experiencing major advances in methodology. Machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques are increasingly being applied in economic modeling and analysis of human behavior. Additionally, the availability of large high-resolution datasets of human activity provide opportunities for application to fisheries management issues, such as the understanding of on-water recreational and commercial angler behavior in response to changing conditions, or seafood purchasing patterns driven by the availability of wild and aquaculture seafood products in the same market.
The Program will be challenged to provide management advice when fisheries are undergoing large-scale unprecedented changes driven by factors such as climate change, aquaculture, and the short and long-term impacts of COVID-19. The Economic and Human Dimension Program has contributed to analyses that deal with decision-making under multiple dimensions of uncertainty created by these forces and must continue to quickly identify, respond and adapt to a changing world.
The Program’s history spans a broad range of research and policy applications. In the face of a dynamic world experiencing increased globalization and considerable uncertainty resulting from climate change, we will continue to implement effective socioeconomic data collection, interdisciplinary research, and innovative policy communication, among other program activities. Human Integrated EBFM provides the next generation of interdisciplinary fisheries management and science.
 NOAA Fisheries Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management Policy available at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/document/ecosystem-based-fisheries-management-policy
 Governance institutions include, but are not limited to, harbor commissions, fishing associations, fishing cooperatives and local governance of waterfront construction and preservation.
 Jepson, Michael and Lisa L. Colburn. 2013. Development of Social Indicators of Fishing Community Vulnerability and Resilience in the U.S. Southeast and Northeast Regions. U.S. Dept. of Commerce., NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-F/SPO-129, 64 p.