The CALFISH database: A century of California's non-confidential fisheries landings and participation data
Scientists curated 100 years worth of data describing landings and participation in California’s fisheries and made it available to the public.
California's commercial and recreational fisheries support vibrant coastal economies and communities. Maintaining healthy fishing communities into the future requires a detailed understanding of their past. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has been monitoring statewide fisheries landings and participation since 1916 and releases confidential versions of this data through authorized data requests and non-confidential summaries of this data in its quasi-annual landings reports. The non-confidential data published in the landings reports provide a rich history of California's fisheries but are scattered across 1000s of tables in 100 s of documents, limiting their accessibility to researchers, fishers, and other interested stakeholders. We reviewed the 58 landings reports published from 1929 to 2020 and extracted and carefully curated 13 datasets with long time series and wide public interest. These datasets include: (1) annual landings in pounds and value by port and species from 1941 to 2019; (2) annual number of commercial fishing vessels by length class from 1934 to 2020; (3) annual number of licensed commercial fishers by area of residence from 1916 to 2020; and (4) annual number of party boat (CPFV) vessels, anglers, and their total catch by species from 1936 to 2020. Notably, we harmonized port names, species common names, and species scientific names across all years and datasets. We make these curated datasets, collectively called the CALFISH database, publicly available to any interested stakeholder in the supplementary materials of this paper, on an open-access data-repository, and in the wcfish R package. These datasets can be used (1) to understand the historical context of California's fisheries; (2) for original research requiring only summaries of historical landings and participation data; and (3) to anticipate the likely characteristics of confidential data requested from the state. We conclude the paper by identifying key principles for increasing the accessibility and utility of historical fisheries landings and participation data.