Overview of the West Coast
Fish Habitat Assessments



The Pacific Marine and Estuarine Fish Habitat Partnership (PMEP) and its assessment partners (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Fish Habitat Partnership, The Nature Conservancy) are conducting three Pacific Coast fish habitat assessments during the next several years to inform future estuary resource protection and restoration efforts along the West Coast and enhance understanding of the role estuaries play in the health and production of offshore commercial fish stocks:


(1) PMEP’s Nursery Habitat Assessment, focusing on nursery functions for juvenile fish in West Coast estuaries.

(2) The National Fish Habitat Plan (NFHP) National Estuary Assessment, focusing on condition and key threats to habitats of recreationally and commercially important fish and shellfish stocks.

(3) A Nearshore Forage Fish Assessment, focusing on habitat-related changes over time in distribution and abundance of nine species of forage fish inhabiting estuary and nearshore habitats.

These assessments have several tasks in common, including application of a consensus estuary classification scheme, creation of a spatial framework, gathering and compiling habitat and fish data, and developing shared tools and products. In addition, the tasks overlap with two other needs across the region: (1) The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Restoration Center provided seed funding for the spatial framework to simultaneously achieve initial products necessary for studying the contribution of nearshore habitats to recruitment of commercial stocks to offshore fisheries; (2) The National Marine Fisheries Service’ (NMFS) California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) has approved development of a habitat ecosystem component, with needs of a classification and spatial framework as initial products to support analysis of habitat indicators in estuary and nearshore habitats. These overlaying project interests require systematic coordination to achieve the products identified by the different assessments without unnecessary duplication of effort.


The fish lists for each of the assessments can be found here.

The Utility of the Assessments

Information gained by the assessments will help West Coast communities and resource managers to:

  • Better understand the role of estuaries in sustaining native species of fish and shellfish, including those most important to people;
  • Identify nursery habitat for fish and shellfish in estuaries, and determining restoration priorities;
  • Identify and evaluate key threats to fish habitat in estuaries; and
  • Demonstrate how conserving and restoring juvenile fish habitat in estuaries contributes to the overall ecological health and economic sustainability of commercial and recreational fisheries.
  • Develop a tool to prioritize nearshore and estuary habitat actions based on productivity to off-shore managed resource populations.
    • Habitat managers must quantify the benefits of coastal restoration projects to offshore fish stocks. Yet,  Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) mapping tools are limited, incomplete or no data exists, or catch data is used as a surrogate for habitat. In some cases, information may only be available for a single life stage or a representative species within a complex or group. Habitat Managers need access to current habitat, species and productivity information, under current and altered environmental conditions, for both onshore and offshore habitats,  to evaluate the effects of proposed development projects in a timely and accurate manner. Fisheries and habitat managers do not have the tools to evaluate the effects of human activities in nearshore marine and estuarine areas (e.g., port development, shoreline modification) on offshore populations of fish.


The Partners

Partners in the effort include NOAA, The Nature Conservancy, Pacific Marine States Fisheries Commission, National Fish Habitat Board, West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Healthy, and the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative.


Pacific Marine and Estuarine Fish Habitat Partnership is:

  • Producing a nursery assessment report that includes recommendations to inform estuary restoration efforts.
  • Soliciting historical and current fish presence, abundance and  other data for fish and shellfish for each assessment.
  • Working with Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission staff to analyze fish data and information for each assessment.
  • Statistically analyzing associations between fisheries and habitat datasets.
  • Hosting a West Coast-wide summit.
  • Coordinating deliverables and timelines across the three assessments.
  • Supporting state-led efforts to provide data on focal species.
  • Coordinating synthesis of wetland datasets.
  • Synthesizing contaminant, eutrophication, and hypoxia risks.

NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service is:

  • Providing funding support to PMEP.
  • Providing overall guidance and direction to assessment outcomes.
  • Encouraging deliverables that inform understanding of the role of estuaries in offshore fish stock production.
  • Working with PSMFC to develop and compile spatial data on habitat types and impacts to juvenile fish.
  • Helping to define the spatial extent of estuaries.
  • Prioritizing research and information needed to expand understanding of the nursery function of estuaries for fish and shellfish.

The Nature Conservancy (using Industrial Economics, Inc. and the Central Coast Wetlands Group as contractors) is:

  • Inventorying all West Coast estuaries.
  • Classifying each estuary using a common scheme.
  • Creating an estuary geodatabase.
  • Producing a State of the Knowledge report of estuary nursery habitats.

Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission is:

  • Serving as the fiscal agent for PMEP.
  • Providing GIS support across the three assessments.
  • Serving as the lead repository for all data associated with the three assessments.

West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health is:

  • Working with partners to incorporate data, information and outcomes from assessments into a data portal for the West Coast.

North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative is:

  • Working with partners to incorporate data, information and outcomes from assessments into a data portal for the West Coast.
  • Creating a workspace/community to share information among partners as assessments progress, but before information becomes public.