Fishing to live or living to fish: Job satisfaction and identity of west coast fishermen

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Fishing is a dangerous and financially risky way to make a living, but it attracts many participants that prefer it to higher paying and safer jobs. Based on a survey of over 1400 U.S. West Coast fishing vessel owners we use factor analysis and structural equation modeling to quantify distinct latent variables representing job satisfaction related to non-monetary versus monetary aspects of fishing and measures of identity and social capital associated with being a fisher. We show that these latent variables have distinct effects on (stated) fishery participation behavior and that higher non-monetary job satisfaction, social capital, and identity, are associated with a willingness to forgo higher income to be a fisher. Understanding how these factors affect and are affected by participation in fisheries could be important to increase benefits from fisheries and to ensure sustainability of management regimes that rely on indirect controls on effort to limit catch.

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  1. 1.

    This question allowed fishers to choose from 5 ascending ranges of pay increase for the outside employment (1–10% more, 11–25% more, 26-50% more, 50-100% more, >100% more) as well as an option to say “they would never choose another job.”

  2. 2.

    We also estimated an ordered logit model. Qualitative results in terms of significance and sign are unchanged. However, we prefer the OLS model for its simplicity of interpretation.


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This work was funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant Number 1616821) and by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Funding sources were not involved in the study design, analysis, or writing of this paper or the decision to submit the article for publication. We thank Melissa Poe (Washington Sea Grant) who helped design and implement the mail survey used to collect data for this analysis.

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Correspondence to Daniel S. Holland.

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Holland, D.S., Abbott, J.K. & Norman, K.E. Fishing to live or living to fish: Job satisfaction and identity of west coast fishermen. Ambio 49, 628–639 (2020).

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  • Factor analysis
  • Fisheries
  • Identity
  • Job satisfaction
  • Social capital
  • Well being