PMEP seeks to restore ecological processes and habitats within estuaries and nearshore marine environments by improving juvenile fish habitat, habitat connectivity, and water quality and quantity.

Steering Committee

Science and Data Committee

Prioritization Committee

Outreach and Education Committee

Many partner organizations

How we Work

National Fish Habitat Partnerships

PMEP is one of 20 national fish habitat partnerships that seek to protect, enhance, and restore fish habitat in the United States.


Pacific Marine and Estuarine Fish Habitat Partnership

Tilllamook estuary. Photo credit: Tillamook Estuaries Partnership.

Our pathway to prioritizing strategic investments in estuaries

1. Inventory and Classification of West Coast Estuaries

2. State of Knowledge Report

3. Compile and map documented presence and abundance data for 15 focal species

4. Literature review - compile and summarize past methods and literature for setting ecological priorities for estuary restoration and habitat protection

5. Refine approximate extent of estuaries

6. Map habitats within estuaries using the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS)

7. Document tidal wetland loss for the US West Coast

8. Identify key stressors in each region (Salish Sea, Washington/Oregon/Northern California coast, Central California, Southern California Bight)

9. Identify restoration and protection strategies that address key stressors

10. Achieve consensus on metrics that address impacts

11. Complete initial set of maps and make available for West Coast stakeholders in the spring of 2017

12. Continue to refine mapping products

PMEP's Geographic Scope

Hunter Creek estuary. Photo credit: John Bragg, SSNERR.

Each step of our process has further refined our ability to accurately describe the current status and extent of West Coast estuaries and will contribute to our ability to inform estuary protection and restoration efforts in the context of climate change.

Graphic credit: Heady et al. 2014.

Inventory and Classification of West Coast Estuaries


Photo credit: Kirsten Ramey, CDFW.

West Coast estuaries were catalogued using boundaries from the National Wetlands Inventory and classified using the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS). The total number of estuaries and the numbers for each class are included in each pie chart to the right.

Graphic Credit: Hughes et al. 2014.

Nehalem Bay, Oregon. Photo credit: Laura Brophy.


State of Knowledge Report on Nursery Functions of West Coast Estuaries

We synthesized information on the life history, habitat requirements, nursery values, and threats to nursery function for 15 ecologically and economically important species, and compiled geospatial data on estuarine use of those species to help us understand the spatial extent and habitat use of focal fish species on the West Coast.


The 15 focal species selected represented a range of fish and invertebrate guilds of cultural, economic, or social importance. The suite of species selected represented the geography of the West Coast.



  • Juveniles of 11 species were documented in 113 of 303 estuaries (15 of the 113 were smaller estuaries – less than 100 ha).
  • All four estuary classes (lagoonal, riverine, embayment and sound) are important systems for juveniles of some or all of 15 species.
  • Four important estuarine subclasses are used by 11 species: Estuarine coastal subtidal, tidal channel/creek, slough, and lagoon.
  • Seagrass beds were used by 13 of 15 species.
  • Common threats to all 15 species include habitat loss, invasive species, hypoxia from eutrophication, pesticides for aquaculture, ocean warming, and sea level rise.
  • Key knowledge gaps include a paucity of data from small estuaries and lack of a known nursery role for many species, especially species of low economic value.


PMEP Assessment Report:

Nursery Functions of West Coast Estuaries


Chinook salmon presence, frequency of occurrence and CPUE from the PMEP Assessment. Source: Toft et al. 2015.

Eelgrass (Zostera marina) in the Coos Bay lower channel. Photo credit: John Bragg, SSNERR.

Estuarine stressor scores: 2010 National Assessment - a composite of 43 indicators. Graphic credit: 2010 National Assessment.

We compiled and synthesized available fish and shellfish data from California, Oregon, and Washington estuaries into a common format to understand measures of catch effort, and presence and frequency of occurrence in estuaries with different stressor scores.


Twenty estuaries were included in the modeling analysis. We used 1990-2014 data.


We used estuarine stressor scores calculated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for their 2010 National Assessment. The scores are a composite of 43 indicators that represent four main categories (land use, river flow alteration, pollution sources, and eutrophication).

  • We created maps displaying species location, average frequency of occurrence, and average catch per unit effort (CPUE).
  • We compared the data, using the best quality portions of the dataset, to presumed habitat impacts measured by estuarine stressor scores.


Results and recommendations:

  • Of the eight species that had suitable data for a modeling analysis, Chinook salmon, coho salmon, Pacific herring, and English sole may be the most impacted by estuarine stressors and therefore may receive the largest benefit from restoration efforts in shallow water areas that were the focus of beach seine efforts in our analysis.
  • Target highly stressed estuaries with the goal of decreasing the score toward a more natural state.
  • Future analysis should seek to isolate effects of individual versus cumulative estuarine stressors, and conduct concurrent fish sampling with measurement and updating of stressors to illustrate dynamic trends.
  • Standard habitat classification categories should be used so that labeling and documentation of sampled habitats are consistent (e.g., the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard—CMECS).


A Literature Review of Estuary Prioritization Schemes

Identifying these elements of the framework will help shape the estuary prioritization process and provide direction in refining criteria and weighing alternative approaches.

We compiled and summarized past methods and literature for setting ecological priorities for estuary restoration and habitat protection. Our expert-directed approach ensured that our framework was focused on initial priorities, ecological criteria, scale, intended uses, and advantages and shortcomings. We interviewed experts from UCSB, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, NOAA, the University of Washington, and The Nature Conservancy.

Data Availability

Address Scale

Establish Timeline

Identify Users

Define Goals


Photo credit: Morgan Bond.

Salmon Creek lagoon, California. Photo credit: Walter Heady.


Mapping the Extent of West Coast Tidal Wetlands Using Extreme Water Level Data and LIDAR

We mapped the extent of West Coast tidal wetlands using extreme water level data and LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) (elevation-based mapping). We followed the 50% exceedance boundary methods published by the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (Lanier et al. 2014), to map the current and historical extent of the estuary, and subdivided large systems, such as Puget Sound (originally characterized as "sound" in CMECS). LIDAR and VDatum analysis for the mapping was conducted by Hiroo Imaki (NOAA-NMFS); expert panel webinars provided external review.



  • The Columbia River has 8 hydrogeomorphic reaches.
  • San Francisco Bay has 4 embayments and 1 major river delta.
  • The Salish Sea, once characterized as "sound," has 166 estuary units (lagoonal and riverine estuaries, embayments, and major river deltas).
  • The new West Coast tidal wetland maps:
  • Greatly improve and expand our understanding of West Coast estuaries
  • Provide comprehensive coverage with improved accuracy and suitability for restoration planning
  • Have been positively reviewed by experts, and match very closely to historic wetland maps
  • Provide a solid base layer for west-coast-scale analysis of wetland losses, restoration and conservation opportunities


NWI estuarine wetlands

 Coquille estuary, Oregon

NWI vs. new West Coast Estuary map Coquille estuary, Oregon

Hare et al. 2015.

Hare et al. 2015.


PMEP after refining the extent of WEST COAST ESTUARIES


pmep version 1.0


inventory and classification
state of knowledge report


inventory and classification
master inventory


Associating estuaries with their drainage areas (EDAs) by leveraging the national Watershed Boundary Dataset will support PMEP's desire to incorporate other effort to characterize watershed conditions and threats, and supports the calculation of new metrics to evaulate estuary condition. Graphic credit: Brett Holycross, PSMFC.

Blind Slough, Columbia River Estuary, Oregon. Photo  credit: Laura Brophy.

Mapping Estuary Habitats

Using the Coastal and Marine Ecological Standard (CMECS)

We are mapping habitats within West Coast estuaries using the aquatic and biotic components of CMECS. Our process:

  • Code each inventoried estuary with its geomorphic type
  • Assign biotic class (aquatic bed, emergent, scrub-shrub and forested) using the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI)
  • Outside NWI mapping, assign biotic class using C-CAP





The CMECS catalog of units. Source:

Nestucca Bay estuary habitat units from the PMEP Estuary Viewer. Source: PMEP.

Mapping Tidal Wetland Loss

on the West Coast

We are conducting a rapid assessment of historic loss of tidal wetlands to inform restoration actions. We will compare two data sources: National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) and the elevation-based map of West Coast current and historical tidal wetlands that we completed in 2016 (Product 5 above). This project is intended to support landscape-scale comparisons (not site-specific analysis) and will include:

  • Maps of tidal wetland areas lost
  • Tables summarizing losses by state, region, estuary, and estuary type
  • A report summarizing methods, comparisons to other studies, limitations of analysis, and appropriate use of the products
  • Timeline for completion: March 2017



This map shows current tidal wetlands and those that have been lost due to diking/disconnection in the Nestucca River estuary of Oregon. PMEP will be producing similar maps for the entire West Coast.

Graphic credit: Estuary Technical Group, Institute for Applied Ecology.


Diked tidal wetland in the Coquille River estuary, Oregon. Photo credit: Laura Brophy.

Identify Regional Stressors

Conceptual DPSIR model linking drivers and pressures to the ecosystem state, impacts to ecosystem components, and adaptive feedback for response actions (Ruckelshaus et al. 2008).

Salish Sea

Habitat loss/alteration, pollution, climate change, invasive species, human population growth, development

Washington, Oregon, and Northern California Coast

Habitat loss/alteration, development, pollution, hydrologic alteration, effects from climate change, invasive species

Central California

Agriculture, hydrologic modification, climate change, urban development, human population growth


Southern California Bight

Urban development, agriculture, hydrologic modification, alterations to sediment transport processes, climate change


Updated DPSIR Definitions:


  • Drivers - demand from the system/society.

  • Pressures - result of a driver-initiated mechanism causing an effect on any part of an ecosystem that may alter the environmental state.

  • States - actual condition of the ecosystem and its components.

  • Impacts - consequences of environmental state changes in terms of environmental and/or socio-economic effects.

  • Responses - Management actions seeking to reduce or prevent an unwanted change or to develop a desirable change in the ecosystem.


Source: Oesterwind et al. 2016

Using the DPSIR model as a way to organize our thinking and articulate threats to estuaries, we initially identified key drivers, pressures, and impacts affecting West Coast estuaries, and then identified key stressors by PMEP region.

We are building on the work of our partners to describe estuary types, historic estuary habitats, the current status of estuary habitats, threats and stressors, restoration and protection strategies that address key stressors, and key data gaps in each PMEP ecoregion. The YouTube Video to the right shows several features of the storymap created for the Southern California Bight Ecoregion

Telling our Story

As we develop the CMECS aquatic and biotic data layers, we are identifying the key stressors on specific habitat types, and identifying metrics that may exist to quantify and address those impacts.


Eelgrass beds and tidal forest/woodland are two habitat types that support nursery function for juvenile fish.

It's About Metrics!

= Habitat Type

= Impacts

= Metrics

Note: Metrics in white text are those that are known to exist; metrics in yellow text lack sufficient data.

Click on each document for a .pdf version you can download.

Tidal forest/woodland

Eelgrass beds

 Strategies to Address Key Impacts on Estuary Habitats

Tidal Forested Wetlands

Restoration Strategies

Protection Strategies

Policy and Planning Strategies

Outreach and Education Strategies

Improve connectivity and restore tidal Influence

  • Remove tidal barriers.
  • Restore tidal channel systems.
  • Reduce dredging or other alterations that have increased tidal prism.
  • Preserve and restore habitat linkages within an estuary and between estuaries along the coast.
  • Reconnect adjacent tributaries.
  • Restore natural groundwater regimes (e.g. remove barriers to surface and subsurface flows).
  • Restore, conserve, and protect estuaries and their ecological function (e.g., restore natural connections between watersheds and tidal wetlands).
  • Preserve systems with currently intact floodplains.
  • Remove dams and/or restore flushing flows.


Protect and restore vegetation

  • Revegetate wetlands and upper buffers with natives. Ensure plant establishment by protecting, especially in forested wetlands.
  •  Control invasive species.

Map remaining forested tidal wetlands.

Acquire land for restoration/protection purposes.

Create rolling easements/encourage development of easements.

Identify a network of interconnected lands to focus conservation efforts that provide critical habitat for sensitive species, high biodiversity patterns, essential ecosystem services and functions, and the greatest opportunity for biodiversity to adapt naturally in a changing and variable environment.





  • Increase awareness of historic prevalence and importance of tidal swamps/forested wetlands.
  • Interpretive signage at restoration sites (campgrounds, trails).
  •  Research the cultural significance of tidal forested wetlands.
  • Provide restoration design guidance, white papers on restoration design issues and potential solutions.
  • Develop standardized monitoring guidelines and cost-efficient monitoring techniques.
  •  Increase the understanding of the term, “tidal swamp.”
  • Build issue awareness and understanding to increase public support and engagement in recovery actions.


Research Community

  • Encourage strategic research into tidal forested wetland functions and characteristics.
  • Encourage researchers to fill data gaps identified.

Create incentives for private and public landowners to protect forested tidal wetlands and follow best management practices.

Encourage adoption of language in planning and funding mechanisms that recognizes the importance of forested tidal wetlands - on the West Coast (not just the East Coast).

Identify and map potential future forested tidal wetland areas under climate change scenarios.




next steps

1. Complete the analysis of historical loss of tidal wetlands for the West Coast.

2. Refine mapping the aquatic and biotic components of West Coast estuaries using CMECS.

3. Visually describe estuary types, historic estuary habitats, the current status of estuary habitats, threats and stressors, restoration and protection strategies that address key stressors, and key data gaps in each PMEP ecoregion.

4. Integrate USGS Sea Level Rise projections (data layers) as well as West Coast nearshore units to incorporate climate

change considerations into priority estuary restoration and protection strategies.



coming soon!

In April of 2017, PMEP will launch the PMEP Spatial Data System. The data system will provide access to West Coast data layers, including historical tidal loss, aquatic and biotic CMECS estuary components, the current extent of estuaries, scope boundary, PMEP region delineations, and literature review/documents compiled to date for 444 West Coast estuaries.


In addition, PMEP collaborated with the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative (DataBasin) to create a West Coast Estuaries Explorer for members of the general public to access many of the data layers PMEP has both created and compiled.

Don't hesitate to contact any of our many partners about the status of any of these products - these efforts are truly a result of teamwork!

pmep committees

PMEP Steering Committee

Chair Fran Recht, Habitat Program Coordinator, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission

Vice-Chair John Stadler (PNW) - Marine Habitat Coordinator (OR, WA), NOAA Fisheries – NMFS Northwest Region

Korie Schaeffer (CA) - Coordinator N. CA Coastal and Estuarine team, NOAA Fisheries – NMFS Southwest Region

Jena Carter (WC) - Oregon Marine and Coast Director and West Coast Regional Marine Coordinator, The Nature Conservancy

John Bragg, Coastal Training Program Coordinator, South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

Bradley Bales (WC) - Executive Director, Pacific Birds Joint Venture

Stan Allen (WC) - Senior Program Manager, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission

Dave Fox (OR) - Marine Resource Assessment Section Leader, OR Department of Fish and Wildlife

Sarah Beesley, Fisheries Biologist, Yurok Tribal Fisheries Program

Doris Small (WA) - Habitat Biologist/Restoration Coordinator, WA Department of Fish and Wildlife

Kevin Shaffer (CA), Program Manager - Anadromous Salmonid Conservation and Management Fisheries Branch, CA Department of Fish and Wildlife

Jennifer Gilden (WC) – Council Staff Officer, Pacific Fishery Management Council (point of contact for Don McIsaac and Dan Wolford)

Vacant – US Forest Service

Heather Kapust (WA) - Wetland Stewardship, Washington Department of Ecology

Chris Swenson, Region 1 Coastal Program Coordinator, US Fish and Wildlife Service



PMEP Science and Data Committee

Bill Pinnix, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Correigh Greene, NOAA

Dayv Lowry, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Eric Grossman, USGS

Kate Sherman, PSMFC

Laura Brophy, Estuary Technical Group - Institute for Applied Ecology

Scott Heppell, Oregon State University

Steve Rumrill, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Van Hare, PSMFC

Walter Heady, The Nature Conservancy

Andy Lanier, Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development



PMEP Prioritization Committee

Chris Swenson, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Correigh Greene, NOAA

Debbie Pickering, The Nature Conservancy

Eric Grossman, USGS

Fran Recht, PSMFC

John Bragg, South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

Kate Sherman, PSMFC

Kevin O'Connor, Central Coast Wetlands Group

Korie Schaeffer, NOAA

Laura Brophy, Estuary Technical Group - Institute for Applied Ecology

Doris Small, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Van Hare, PSMFC

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