Habitat and Communities: Fishing Communities

The term “fishing community” can refer geographically to a place where fishermen and women live (Newport, San Pedro, Seattle), or more abstractly to a community based on gear type, fishery, geography, values, or other factors. For example, an “occupational community” is a group of people involved in the same occupation, like the coastwide community of trawlers. A “community of interest” is made up of people who share similar interests: for example, people who are concerned about making the fishing industry safer. One town or city might include many different occupational communities and communities of interest.

Social scientists spend a great deal of time defining “community” so that fishing communities can be studied and compared. The Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) defines a fishing community as:

“…a community which is substantially dependent on or substantially engaged in the harvest or processing of fishery resources to meet social and economic needs, and includes fishing vessel owners, operators, and crew and United States fish processors that are based in such community.”

In interpreting this definition, the National Marine Fisheries Service has stated that “A fishing community is a social or economic group whose members reside in a specific location…” This “official” interpretation means that a fishing community exists in a specific place.

However you define fishing communities, it can be said that they are composed of diverse, independent people who do not fit easily into neat categories and who rarely, if ever, present themselves as a homogeneous group.

The Community Conundrum

Not enough information on fishing communities has been systematically gathered. One reason for this is because most funding for fisheries management goes towards biological research and management. In addition, the instability and complexity of the fishing industry make it very hard to pin down. Census data does not differentiate between fishery and forestry occupations, and concerns about identifying individuals, businesses, and privileged information limits the publication of economic data that would be useful for studying the economic importance of fishing activities. To complicate matters, many fishing communities are unincorporated or are parts of larger communities that do not rely on fishing (for example, Los Angeles). Also, many fishing community members only fish part time, or hold other jobs while they fish. In a way, collecting community information is about as hard as collecting information on fish stocks: both populations are highly mobile and exist in a complex and constantly-changing universe.

What Does Management Say about Fishing Communities?

The 1996 revision of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which is the basis for fisheries management in the United States, recognizes the importance of human communities and their relationship to fisheries. Among other things, its National Standard 8 declares that fishery conservation must take into account the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities, with the goals of providing for the “sustained participation” of those communities in fisheries and minimizing “adverse economic impacts” as much as possible. This focus on communities represents a subtle shift taking place in many areas of natural resource management. However, funding for studying the effects of management on communities remains at a low level.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process also calls for an assessment of the impacts of actions on communities. As part of the NEPA process, both economic factors (economic base, employment, revenue, income, etc.) and social factors (population dynamics, social institutions, environmental justice, cultural values, community identity, history, etc.) need to be addressed in environmental assessments and environmental impact statements. However, NEPA states that “economic or social effects are not intended by themselves to require preparation of an environmental impact statement.”

In addition to these federal mandates, a growing number of natural resource managers recognize the importance of including the views and values of diverse stakeholders, including fishing community members, in the management process. In fact, the Council process was set up specifically to include stakeholders in the process. People who effectively represent the concerns of their communities can help create more effective and efficient fisheries management.

What Research and Data Collection is Taking Place?

Other Resources and Publications

Who to Contact at the Council

Mr. Jim Seger is the Council’s staff economist. Ms. Jennifer Gilden occasionally conducts non-economic social science work for the Council. You may contact them by email or by telephone: (503) 820-2280 or toll free 1-866-806-7204.