Flaxen Conway and Ted Strub next to a computer


By Tiffany Woods

Commercial fishermen can now check forecasts for ocean conditions off the Pacific Northwest coastline with an easy-to-use, interactive, online map.

The tool is at nvs.nanoos.org/Seacast on the website of the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS), a partnership of entities that gather and disseminate data on the ocean. The new site is the culmination of multiple years of research based on conversations with fishermen that aimed to make ocean forecasts as accessible as weather forecasts.

Talks started in 2012 when Colin Duncan, an Oregon State University graduate student, asked fishermen about their needs regarding ocean forecasts. He also met with NANOOS scientists to learn about their work. His research, which was published in his thesis, laid the foundation for the creation of Seacast.org, an experimental site that displays forecasts for sea conditions such as wave height and surface currents.

After Duncan graduated, undergraduate computer science students in OSU's College of Engineering added more features to the site that fishermen requested. Then in 2016, Oregon Sea Grant provided funding that allowed OSU graduate student Jessica Kuonen to advance the project under the guidance of Flaxen Conway, a community outreach specialist with Oregon Sea Grant and the OSU Extension Service. The funding also allowed researchers to leverage money from Oregon Space Grant and the National Science Foundation.

Kuonen and the computer science team met on several occasions with fishermen to get their input on Seacast.org. Based on fishermen’s requests, the web developers made the site easier to use and added fields that included bottom temperature and salinity. They also added a feature that allows users to see various forecasts for ocean conditions precisely where they click their cursor on the map.

In 2018, the data and design from Seacast.org found a new home on the NANOOS website. Seacast.org will eventually be taken offline as more fishermen get accustomed to the NANOOS site, said Ted Strub, an oceanographer at OSU who was the lead on the project.

“Without more funding, Seacast.org can't be maintained,” he said. “It was always the plan for the experimental site to be transitioned to a more permanent site. We just didn't know who would actually do that. It is a measure of her forward vision that Jan Newton, the executive director of NANOOS, was willing to use her resources to support the conversion of the experimental site to the more operational system.” 

Lessons learned from the years of work informed the creation of the new tool on the NANOOS site, Strub said. Those lessons included the results of Kuonen’s research. Kuonen aimed to understand how fishermen use ocean forecasts to make decisions, why scientists provide the data they do in forecasts, and how both groups perceive risk and uncertainty regarding ocean conditions.

Kuonen, who graduated in marine resource management in 2018, interviewed 11 captains, four fishermen’s wives and one industry representative. She also spoke with 17 scientists and managers from academic institutions and government agencies that provide weather forecasts and oceanographic data. Results indicated that more useful forecasts for ocean conditions could be created if data providers and the fishermen who use that information were to work together.

“The future of enhancing the usefulness of ocean condition forecasts ultimately lies with the data provider and end-user communities and their willingness to cooperate,” she wrote in her thesis. “The genesis for this type of engagement could be cooperative research, where fishermen collect observations from the ocean environment and provide feedback to help validate and improve the models.