Click to return to the Homepage

A Partnership of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment, Brown University and Duke University

Printer friendly versionPrinter friendly version

Port Orford Ocean Resource Team

Case Authors

Jennifer Lee Johnson, Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, University of Michigan


The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team was established in 2001 to develop a sustainable, local fishery based in a small community on the coast of Oregon. POORT supports community and ecosystem-based management.

POORT has no legal management authority, but has established formal partnerships with a state agency and the city of Port Orford. An inclusive organizational structure and shared sense of the problems facing the ecosystem have aided POORT in realizing significant support among local fishermen.

A Community Stewardship Area that promotes voluntary actions to improve the fishery was established in 2006. It includes traditional fishing grounds as well as terrestrial areas. Then in 2009, POORT’s work led to the state declaring a portion of the stewardship area as a marine reserve that is off-limits to fishing.

POORT has allowed fishermen to sell their catch to new markets, building direct connections between fishermen and consumers. It has raised awareness of the ecosystem and its stressors and it partnered with researchers to build new knowledge of habitats and species.


MEBM Attributes

  • Collaboration: POORT’s inclusive structure and its emphasis on partnerships creates mechanisms for collaboration.
  • Balance/Integration: Stakeholders such as fishermen are intimately involved in directing the initiative and assist scientists with data collection.
  • Scale: Addressing marine and terrestrial stressors reflects an ecosystem-wide focus.

Mission and Primary Objectives


The mission of the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team is to engage Port Orford fishermen and other community members in developing and implementing a strategic plan and framework that ensures the long-term sustainability of the Port Orford reef ecosystem and the social system that depends on it.


POORT has developed objectives that include the following:

  • Develop a strategic plan.
  • Provide a consensus voice and legitimate representation from Port Orford to other coastal decision-makers.
  • Create a direct connection between local stock abundance and local harvest rates.
  • Assess and reduce (or eliminate) by-catch and habitat degradation.
  • Market a high quality, high value product to consumers.
  • Ensure adequate enforcement of Port Orford ocean regulations.


Key Parties

Lead Organizations

  • Port Orford Fishermen
  • Port Orford City Officials
  • Port Orford Community Members

Key Parties

The following non-governmental organizations, foundations and consulting groups provided the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team with technical assistance or funding for strategic planning and ecological monitoring, among other services:

  • David and Lucille Packard Foundation
  • Ecotrust
  • Environmental Defense
  • Ford Family Foundation
  • Golden Marine Consulting
  • Pacific Marine Conservation Council
  • Surfrider


Program Structure

The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team, or POORT, is an umbrella non-governmental organization that formalized and strengthened community- and ecosystem-based management in Port Orford, Ore.

Board of Directors

A Board of Directors includes five commercial fishermen and meets monthly. It is also called the Fishermen’s Board, and is the primary decision-making body.

Community Advisory Board

A Community Advisory Board includes community leaders, scientists, recreational users, and representatives of stakeholder groups and the mayor of Port Orford. It also includes the chairman of the Port Orford Planning Commission, the editor of the local newspaper, and the Ocean Ecosystem Project Manager for the Surfrider Foundation.


Leesa Cobb, one of the founders of POORT, is the executive director. The staff is composed of an administrative assistant and AmeriCorps volunteer who serves as the Stewardship Area Outreach Coordinator.


Motivations for Initiating Effort

Laura Anderson, then a graduate student at Oregon State University, and Leesa Cobb, the wife of a fisherman, began soliciting input on fisheries management from fishermen in Port Orford, Ore. in the late 1990s.

Coast-wide, top-down management was not working for the locally-based fisheries in Port Orford. The two formed the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team to promote finer-scale, science-based management to create a sustainable fishery. POORT, as the organization is called, officially formed in 2001.

About 25 percent of Port Orford’s 1,200 residents are directly employed in the fishing industry. Individual and household poverty rates are much greater than the national average.

In the late 1990s, a coast-wide salmon disaster was declared. Port Orford’s local sea urchin fishery collapsed. Stocks of imported groundfish species followed suit. State and federal attempts at managing the local fishing fleet were failing. By 2003, many groundfish fisheries had closed to allow overfished species to recover.


Ecosystem Characteristics and Threats

The Ecosystem

The ocean environment within the Stewardship Area at Port Orford on the coast of Oregon contains sandy bottom, bedrock and high-relief rocky reefs.

The nearshore area contains a number of dynamic reef systems, most with emergent rocks that support a variety of marine mammals and bird populations, including the threatened Stellar sea lion. Major reef systems include Blanco Reef, Orford Reef, McKenzie’s Reef, Redfish Rocks and Island Rock.

All commercial fishing vessels in Port Orford are less than 40 feet long. They use longline or hook and line gear and pots for crab fishing. More than 70 percent of Port Orford’s fishing vessels depend on the groundfish fishery, and primarily fish for black cod and several species of rockfish. 


Port Orford’s rural location and the conservation measures, both voluntary and regulatory, that were put in place following the collapse of the groundfish fishery in 2003 have limited stressors on the ecosystem. However, participants in the POORT effort have identified the following threats:

  • Overfishing may still occur because of a lack of finer-scale scientific information on the localized fish stocks and the lack of appropriate management interventions.
  • Climate change is expected to change the fishery is uncertain and potentially harmful ways.
  • Wave energy projects are being discussed as a renewable source of energy in Oregon, and their potential impact on fisheries is being carefully studied.


Major Strategies

The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team uses the following major strategies to accomplish its conservation objectives:

Protected Areas

POORT has established the following protected areas: 

  • Community Stewardship Area: In 2006, POORT designated the Port Orford Community Stewardship Area with the support of a majority of fishermen. The area includes 935 square miles of traditional fishing grounds and 385 square miles of terrestrial habitat. Fishermen had identified the need to protect the watershed. The area includes city, county, state and federally managed land and water. Fishing conservation measures are voluntary. POORT established ambitious goals that include creating an integrated research plan and new harvest policy options. Other principles that apply to the area recognize the importance of protecting water quality and juvenile fish, and promoting owner-operated fisheries.
  • Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve: In 2009, the state officially designated a 2.6 square-mile area around Redfish Rocks as a marine reserve that prohibits fishing and extractive activities. The site is located within the Community Stewardship Area. The state wanted to establish a network of marine reserves, but sought a bottom-up approach to its designation. POORT conducted focus groups with fishermen to identify a site within the stewardship area, built support within the community, and initiated the proposal to create the marine reserve.

Strategic Partnerships

POORT has used partnerships to learn from the experiences of other groups that have conducted community-based management. Participating in workshops around the country has allowed POORT to meet other groups, such as the Maine-based Stonington Fisheries Alliance. POORT based its own fundamental and operating principles for its Stewardship Area on guidelines from the alliance.

Other learning experiences have come through POORT’s partnership with five other community- and ecosystem-based management initiatives on the West Coast. The David and Lucille Packard Foundation funded the West Coast Ecosystem-Based Management Network. The network’s annual meeting in 2009 was held in Port Orford. Participants shared the challenges and successes of their projects.

Formal Agreements

POORT has struck partnerships with a state agency and the city of Port Orford that have been solidified by the following formal memorandum of understanding:

  • Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife: The MOU outlines the terms of collaborative management and science. Federal and state agencies retain formal management authority for marine portions of the stewardship area, but the MOU has given POORT priority funding for ecosystem-based management science projects. The partnership also played a significant role in the state’s selection of Port Orford’s proposal for a marine reserve at Redfish Rocks. The MOU also gave fishermen a stronger role in shaping the state agency’s decisions.
  • City of Port Orford: Collaboration with the city related to the development of a stormwater ordinance and marine reserve process was formalized with the signing of a MOU.

Stormwater Management

Voters passed a stormwater ordinance in November 2009. The ordinance will improve water quality in freshwater streams and near-shore areas within the city limits. The MOU stipulated that POORT would provide $6,000 and the city would provide $3,000 to hire consultants and pay city staff to draft the ordinance. POORT also provided 170 hours of research and conducted extensive outreach.

Voluntary Release of Spawning Fish

POORT motivated fishermen to release spawning female fish. POORT board members began releasing the fish and believed they survived. State fisheries managers declined to support the release program, citing a lack of scientific evidence to support the claim that the fish survived. Board members wanted fishermen to participate, however. They convinced the major local fish buyers to stop purchasing spawning fish. POORT distributed posters about the need to release these fecund females back into the ocean.


Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation

The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team relies on a variety of partnerships to monitor ecological conditions within the Community Stewardship Area. Collaborative research helps facilitate information sharing and understanding between Port Orford's fishermen and scientists. The research is translated into management decision-making. Fishermen assist with data collection and often charter services to scientists.

Two projects include the tagging of key species in the live fish fishery to examine fish survival rates and movements. POORT, local fishermen and state officials are collaborating on a project to collect biological data on near-shore species. The goal is to conduct stock assessments on a finer spatial scale.

Other projects include a multi-beam bathymetric survey with state officials and Oregon State University. The survey will be used to develop habitat maps of the marine reserve. The state is conducting a video survey in the area to improve understanding of fish behavior and life cycles.

In 2008, POORT joined the Nature Conservancy in a study of algal communities, seaweed and the animals that rely on them. The study identified 60 species, 12 of which had never been recorded in Oregon. One actually may be new to science. 


The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team on the coast of Oregon has achieved the following accomplishments or impacts:

Raising Awareness

POORT has raised awareness of marine issues in the city of Port Orford. Its founders also have shared their experiences with other groups across the country, helping provide the motivation for others seeking to pursue similar projects.

Support Fishermen and Community Members

POORT has supported fishermen and community members, helping to cushion the blow from the salmon disaster and closure of certain fisheries. POORT helped distribute funds from the Oregon salmon commission and helped fishermen with rent payments and emergency medical support. POORT regularly donates to the Port Orford food bank, an essential safety-net in a community with high unemployment.

Connecting Fishermen and Consumers

POORT has built direct connections between fishermen and consumers. POORT's commitment to economic sustainability has helped provide fishermen with new outlets for selling fish. Some fishermen are selling their fish directly to consumers at food cooperatives in larger cities. POORT also sells fish out of its office in downtown Port Orford. Previously, local fish were not available to local consumers unless they were connected to the fishing industry. Port Orford residents receive a substantial discount on purchases from POORT.

Factors Facilitating Progress

The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team has been facilitated by the following factors:

  • Existing Institutional Structures: Existing institutional structures and policies, such as the Marine Reserve Policy and the state commitment to protecting the near-shore area, provided a solid foundation for POORT’s work.
  • Shared Recognition of the Problem: The possibility that the near-shore fishery might collapse kept the community and fishermen involved in the project. Port Orford depended on the fishery and its fishermen knew other near-shore fishermen had lost access to their traditional grounds when the fisheries collapsed. The homogeneity of Port Orford's fishing fleet helped POORT avoid many difficulties associated with balancing disparate interests of various fishing sectors.
  • Sense of Place: Port Orford is a small community connected to the marine environment. Winters bring violent storms that demonstrate the ocean's impact on human life. The economic reliance on fisheries instills an awareness of the connection to the health of the marine ecosystem. The Community Stewardship Area and marine reserve can be seen from the city.
  • Dedicated and Local Leadership: Dedicated and local leadership helped sustain momentum when progress was not immediately visible. POORT Executive Director Leesa Cobb forged collaborations with local and national groups. Her involvement in the community ensured that POORT was not an ephemeral organization. Port Orford's Mayor Jim Auburn played a similar role.  Partner organizations, such as the Surfrider Foundation, demonstrated a commitment to the community. When Surfrider began work in Port Orford, its officials rented a house and lived in the community.
  • Organizational Structure: POORT's organizational structure engaged fishermen, community members, local leaders and outside experts to enable regular communication, collective decision-making and transparency. Consideration of the diverse interests of Port Orford helped POORT gain legitimacy and support. POORT could leverage funding and obtain recognition for its work, which led to additional progress.
  • Funding and Technical Support: Funding and technical support provided by POORT’s partners and supporters was essential. These partnerships provided the capacity to start and maintain the project, and the technical expertise to carry out sustained scientific data collection, community outreach and draft lengthy technical documents. 


The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team has encountered the following challenges to realizing its conservation goals:

  • Skepticism: Not everybody in the community supported POORT at the start. Skeptics were unsure of POORT’s viability and whether community-based management could make a difference. Maintaining contact with supporters and skeptics was important.
  • Slow Progress: POORT lacked a big achievement early on in its development.
  • New Territory: Achieving community- and ecosystem-based management can be a challenge when the institutional norms and procedures of the bodies that have regulatory authority over the resource are geared to an older, top-down system of management that doesn’t account for finer-scaled, local ecosystems.
  • Resistance to Change: Similarly, some members of the local fishing fleet and regulatory agencies have pushed back against POORT’s efforts.
  • Funding: POORT has no plans to expand its small staff and maintaining its funding is a challenge.


Lessons Learned

People involved with the Poort Orford Ocean Resource Team have learned the following lessons:

  • Outreach is Essential: Much of POORT's success can be attributed to its consistent and enthusiastic outreach. Outreach was conducted before any proposals were formally considered. POORT members also developed a close working relationship with the local press. 
  • Clearly Define Process, Roles and Expectations: The agreements between POORT and the State of Oregon, and between POORT and the city of Port Orford helped POORT gain traction. The MOU agreements clearly defined each party’s roles and responsibilities, which helped avoid any misunderstandings.
  • Communicate Science Appropriately: POORT communicated its goals in a way that was familiar to its community. Instead of using buzzwords like marine ecosystem-based management, POORT’s supporters talked about stewardship, a term local people understood. Academic and policy terms were avoided.
  • Identify Dedicated Participants and Leaders: Without dedicated, locally-based staff and leaders, POORT would never have existed. POORT relied on people with prior relationships and experience in the community that had developed long before the project.
  • Recognize that EBM is a Slow Process: Ecosystem-based management is a significant shift from the status quo. Change happens slowly. Avoid getting discouraged.
  • Work Closely with Local Government: The success of POORT's partnerships with the city of Port Orford exceed both the city's and POORT's expectations. Still, some POORT members wished they had integrated the group more closely with local government to enhance the group’s ability to work with other units of government, such as the local port district, which is separate from the city.


Website Links

The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team: