Fishing communities are facing a variety of challenges including declines in participation, reduced access to fish resources, aging physical infrastructure, gentrification, competition from foreign imports, the “graying” or aging of their fleets, along with a host of environmental stressors. These factors can represent threats to the continued viability of individual fishing communities. Such communities are clearly in need of tools that will enable them to plan strategically and to be more proactive in charting a sustainable future. This manuscript provides a roadmap for how to engage fishing communities in a bottom-up strategic planning process termed “fishing community sustainability planning” by describing implementation efforts in four diverse California ports: Morro Bay, Monterey, Shelter Cove, and Eureka. The process draws from the literature on sustainability and community development to assess fishing community sustainability around four broad categories: economics and markets; social and community; physical infrastructure and critical services; environment and regulation. Process steps included developing a project team and community coalition, analyzing baseline data, conducting interviews with waterfront stakeholders, hosting public workshops, and drafting a Fishing Community Sustainability Plan (FCSP) that includes concrete recommendations for how a community’s fishing industry and waterfront can be improved. Experiences from the four ports reveal that fishing community sustainability planning can be adapted to a variety of contexts and can contribute tangible benefits to communities. However, there are limitations to what community-scale planning can achieve, as many regulatory decisions that affect communities are enacted at the state or national level. Combining community-level planning with scaled-up fishing community sustainability planning efforts at the state and federal level could help overcome these limitations. FCSP planning is one tool fishing communities should consider as they seek to address threats and plan for their long-term viability.
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