PARTNERSHIPS: The Growth of Collaborative Research at a Regional Level Series, Part 2: Socioeconomics Focus with Dr. Bob Leeworthy

In an effort to show illustrate the role of economics in coastal and ocean resource conservation and management decision-making, NOAA Ocean Science Blogger sat down with Dr. Vernon (Bob) Leeworthy to talk about a study he conducted before and after the Tortugas Ecological Reserve closing from a economics perspective.

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, Part 1 with the Dr. Chris Jeffrey (NOAA/NCCOS/CCMA/Biogeography Branch) provides an overview of the report and project while Part 3 is an interview featuring Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary‘s Superintendent, Sean Morton on the role of research within a Sanctuary. The NOAA announcement is available online.

Thanks for doing this interview, Dr. Leeworthy.
Thank you for inviting me.

How did NOAA’s NCCOS and ONMS come together to do this project? Please describe your role on this project.  How did it complement what NCCOS did?
This was the coming together of the physical, natural and socioeconomic science for the first time.  NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science had developed an integrated ecosystem assessment tool and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries was looking to build upon the monitoring it had already begun in the Tortugas region.  The timing was perfect to apply the NCCOS tool to the questions ONMS was looking to answer.  Would fishermen be socioeconomically impacted with limited access to the study area? 

Who were your partners in the project?
Of course, NCCOS and ONMS were partners on this project, but we also worked closely with fishermen, regional natural resource managers, and other regional stakeholders to ensure we were developing a balanced approach to conserving and supporting the Tortugas’ coastal economic resources.

Since much of what ONMS does is connected to the NMFS, we worked closely with them to ensure information was being shared, resulting in efficient use of NOAA resources to accomplish ONMS as well as NMFS priorities and mandates.

How did you and your partners develop the idea for this project?
As I said, ONMS had begun monitoring in the region and as we were looking to move forward to better understand the Tortugas resources, NCCOS was looking to apply its integrated ecosystem assessment tool on a broader scale.  Once we brought the idea to the fishing community and regional managers, it began to take on a life of its own, becoming a fluid and dynamic (and very effective) process of co-developing an approach that we were all happy to move forward with. 

What need were you hoping to fill by completing this project? And, how does your work address these needs?
We wanted to apply numbers and test assumptions we thought were in play for this region with real data and actual scenarios provided by the fishing and regional stakeholders.

We worked closely with NCCOS to engage with stakeholders to gather the important data on practices, focus areas and fish population dynamics.  Once I had that in hand, I began to drill down and look at the potential impacts of different activities.

What processes did you undergo to plan and carry out this work?
We did this through a series of open engagement workshops and meetings with panels, councils, state and federal partners.

From those discussions, ONMS took the surveys to identify key socioeconomic impacts and benefits of different real-time fishing and management activities taking place across the region.

At every stage of the process, all stakeholders were at the table to review results and tweak the process.  That close collaboration continued to happen through the entire 5 years of the project, which resulted in the report we co-published with Chris Jeffrey and his team at NCCOS.  There are several peer-reviewed journal publications in the pipeline for the coming year from both NCCOS and ONMS.

Were there any findings that surprised you or the partners?
First, that the fishermen did not supper socioeconomic loss as a result of the limited access to the study area and that there was a rebound in the first two years of the study!

On the science side, and the part that fascinates me, is that we discovered that two of our major assumptions 1) that there would be “opportunity costs” (losses) and 2) that all reef fish throughout the Florida Keys was overfished were both incorrect!

What are the future implications on this project to the region?
Since this project was completed several years ago, ONMS has already take this approach and applied it to the Sambos, and Channel Islands assessments.  We’ve also used this approach in the Morey’s project.

Stakeholders in St. Augustine, FL who saw this approach have expressed great interest in learning more about how it might be applied for balancing conservation and human use of their resources.

Are their plans for future work to be done on this topic?
Outside of those additional success stories, we are seeing that at least considering the two above assumptions in the process of management decision-making may be a necessary shift in how we look at answering these types of questions in other sanctuaries.

At the end of the day, the coordination between all the partners on this project along with ONMS and NMFS coordination on information-sharing proved the best tool for bringing about a broadly-supported plan in the region. 

Where can readers find out more about your results and work on this project?
To learn about the project check out Chris Jeffrey’s blog.  You can also download the report from the NCCOS website.  To learn more about other socioeconomic work ONMS is doing, visit my page.

headshot of middle aged man in glasses

Dr. Bob Leeworthy

Guest Blogger Biography: Dr. Vernon R. (Bob) Leeworthy is currently the Chief Economist for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Ocean Service (NOS) located in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Dr. Leeworthy came to NOAA in 1985 as a National Sea Grant Fellow from Florida State University and was Leader of NOS’s Coastal and Ocean Resource Economics Program from 1986 to 2007.   Dr. Leeworthy designed and has been overseeing implementation the Socioeconomic Research and Monitoring Program for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary since 1998 and is currently working on expanding the social science capacity of the National Marine Sanctuary System. Click here to learn more about Dr. Leeworthy’s socio-economic research.

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This entry was posted in Benthic Mapping, Biogeography Branch, Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment, Coral, General, Marine Regional Planning, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, NOAA's National Ocean Service, Ocean Field Work, Science for Coastal Ecosystem Management and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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