Economic and sociocultural impacts of fisheries closures in two fishing-dependent communities following the massive 2015 U.S. West Coast harmful algal bloom
In the spring of 2015, a massive harmful algal bloom (HAB) of the toxin-producing diatom Pseudo-nitzschia occurred on the U.S. West Coast, resulting in the largest recorded outbreak of the toxin domoic acid and causing fisheries closures. Closures extended into 2016 and generated an economic shock for coastal fishing communities. This study examines the economic and sociocultural impacts of the Dungeness crab and razor clamfisheries closures on two fishing-dependent communities. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 36 community members from two communities impacted by the event – Crescent City, California and Long Beach, Washington. Interviewees included those involved in the fishing, hospitality, and retail industries, local government officials, recreational harvesters, and others. Interviews probed aspects of resilience in economic, social, institutional, and physical domains, based on the contention that community resilience will influence the communities’ ability to withstand HAB events. Dimensions of vulnerability were also explored, encompassing sensitivity of the communities to HAB events and their adaptive capacity. Common themes that emerged from the interview responses indicate that economic hardships extended beyond fishing-related operations and permeated through other sectors, particularly the hospitality industry. Significant barriers to accessing financial and employment assistance during extended fisheries closures were identified, particularly for fishers. Long-held traditions surrounding crab and shellfish harvest and consumption were disrupted, threatening the cultural identities of the affected communities. Community members expressed a desire for clearer, more thorough, and more rapid dissemination of information regarding the management of fisheries closures and the health risks associated with HAB toxins. The likelihood of intensifying HABs under climate change heightens the need for actions to increase the resilience of fishing communities to the economic and sociocultural impacts caused by HAB-related fisheries closures.