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Economics & Social Sciences Research Program

Fishing Communities Project Evaluates Scale and Methods

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) and other legal mandates, NMFS has been conducting basic social science research on fishing communities. The research must cover large geographic scales and address a broad array of analytical issues. These conditions are in tension with the traditional ethnographic methods of anthropology and the MSA’s focus on the community as a unit of analysis. This dilemma forces NOAA social scientists to examine the scales at which they work and the methods that are appropriate for different geographic scales.

AFSC social scientist Dr. Jennifer Sepez published an article in the applied anthropology journal Human Organization on these issues. The article was written with coauthors Karma Norman, of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC), Amanda Poole, a graduate student in Environmental Anthropology at the University of Washington, and Bryan Tilt, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Oregon State University.

The article describes how social scientists at the AFSC and NWFSC navigated these conflicting imperatives by adopting large-scale community profiling using social and fishing indicators informed by ethnographic site visits, and by advocating a “nested-scale” analytical framework that imbricates the community level analytical unit with macrolevel considerations related to regional and global forces and microlevel dynamics related to intracommunity heterogeneity.

The article appears as Sepez, J. K Norman, A. Poole and B. Tilt. 2006. Fish Scales: Scale and Method in Social Science Research for North Pacific and West Coast Fishing Communities. Human Organization 65(3)280-293. AFSC community profiles for North Pacific Fishing Communities located in Alaska are available on the AFSC Web site at and a draft version of the joint AFSC/NWFSC profiles for North Pacific and West Coast fishing communities in Washington, Oregon, California and other U.S. states is online at

By Jennifer Sepez

The Demand for Halibut Sport Fishing Trips in Alaska

The National Marine Fisheries Service is responsible for managing the Alaska halibut sport fishery. The Alaska halibut sport fishery is large. In 2000, for instance, over 400,000 halibut were harvested by sport anglers in the state. In recent years, several regulatory changes have been proposed that could significantly impact the sport fishery.

In August 2003, a guideline harvest limit (GHL) policy was implemented to regulate the Pacific halibut guided recreational fishery in Alaska. This policy sets a limit on the amount of halibut that can be harvested by the guided recreational fishery and establishes a process for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to initiate harvest restrictions in the event that the limit is met or exceeded. Numerous harvest restrictions may be adopted by the Council in the event the GHL is surpassed, including reducing the allowable catch.

Catch by noncharter boat recreational halibut anglers are not subject to the GHL and are accommodated through reductions in the commercial TAC. To assess the impacts of pending and potential regulatory changes on sport angler behavior, it is necessary to have estimates of the baseline demand for halibut fishing trips and an understanding of the factors that affect it.

To this end, a project is currently under way to develop and implement a survey that collects information about saltwater recreational fishing trips in Alaska. The project consists of three major phases. The first phase involves developing and pretesting the survey instrument. This phase includes testing the survey instrument using focus groups, cognitive interviews, and a formal pretest survey implementation. These activities were completed in 2006. It is currently undergoing final revisions and will be implemented through a mail survey of Alaskan sport anglers during the second phase of the project. The survey implementation will follow a modified Dillman Tailored Design Method to maximize response. In the final phase of the project, data will be analyzed and results reported.

By Dan Lew

Experimental Design Construction for Stated Preference Choice Experiments

Stated preference choice experiments, which involve respondents choosing between alternatives that differ in attributes, have been used primarily in the marketing literature to understand consumer preferences for market goods. In recent years, however, their usefulness for gaining insights into preferences for non-market goods has become apparent, and stated preference researchers are increasingly turning to choice experiments to value public goods. Choice experiments were first applied to value public goods in a study of recreational opportunities in Canada. Since then, several studies have used choice experiment approaches to estimate use values for activities like hunting, climbing, and recreational fishing. Choice experiments have also been used to estimate nonconsumptive use values associated with forests in the United Kingdom, forest loss due to global climate change, and Woodland caribou habitat in Canada.

A typical choice experiment involves presenting respondents with two or more choice questions, each having a set of alternatives that differ in attributes. For each question, respondents are asked to select the alternative they like best. The choice responses are used to estimate a preference function that depends upon the levels of the attributes.

In constructing choice experiment questions, researchers must determine the set of attributes and attribute levels that respondents see in each question. This is a critical judgment, as a poor experimental design can preclude estimating important marginal effects, or conversely, a good design can significantly increase the precision of estimated parameters or provide justification for reducing the sample size. The latter is particularly important in light of how expensive, carefully-constructed, and tested stated preference surveys are.

Research is currently under way by Dan Lew within REFM to determine ways to improve stated preference choice question experimental designs to enable efficient estimation of all relevant effects. Preliminary results from Dan’s research were presented at the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists sessions at the 2006 annual conference of the American Agricultural Economics Association meeting in Long Beach, California, in July 2006.

By Dan Lew

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