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Bob Francis

fisheries management, marine ecosystem dynamics, fisheries oceanography, climate change



This professor is no longer available as a faculty advisor for graduate students.

I am a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington. My training is in mathematics and statistics and my research interests are in the area of fisheries oceanography. My particular research focus is trying to understand the structure and dynamics of large marine ecosystems and how they are affected by harvest and physical forcing. Most of my graduate students have a strong emphasis on some aspect of quantitative fishery science (e.g. statistics, mathematical modeling, population and/or ecosystem dynamics).


I am presently involved in three major research projects:

Towards a Fisheries Ecosystem Plan for the Northern California Current

Funded by Washington Sea Grant

This project is designed to (1) quantitatively investigate the large-scale structure and dynamics of the Northern California Current Ecosystem (NCCE), (2) determine the impacts of fishing on NCCE trophic structure and dynamics, (3) provide a first attempt at designing significant qualitative and quantitative aspects of a regional Fisheries Ecosystem Plan (FEP) as recommended by the National Marine Fisheries Service Ecosystem Principles and Advisory Panel, and (4) convey models and findings to fisheries managers and policy makers through comprehensible dynamic computer visualizations. This project serves as the basis of John Field’s Ph.D. research. Sarah Gaichas is embarking on a similar Ph.D. dissertation project, under my supervision, focusing on the coastal Gulf of Alaska.

Pacific Northwest Climate Impacts Study

Funded by the NOAA Office of Global Programs.

This project is an integrated assessment of the effects of climate variability and climate change on the resources (hydrology, forests, marine ecosystems and coastal activities) and policy response strategies of the Pacific Northwest. I have three major research efforts presently under way:

  1. PNW Climate Reconstructions using Geoduck Shells—This project serves as the MS research of Are Strom and uses geoduck growth rates as a paleo-indicator of Puget Sound climate. Using geoduck shells from animals which lived up to 160 years, we have been able to reconstruct the multicentury history of surface ocean conditions in the Puget Sound Basin. Mr Strom is no longer on the CIG budget and will finish up his MS thesis late in 2001.
  2. Climate and PNW Coastal Coho Salmon—A Look at the Ocean—This research is a collaboration between Libby Logerwell (SAFS postdoc), Nathan Mantua (UW Dep of Atmospheric Sciences), Peter Lawson (NMFS Newport OR) and Vera Agostini (SAFS Ph.D. student supported by CIG) to study physical processes in the atmosphere and ocean which affect marine productivity in the Pacific Northwest coastal ocean. The initial focus has been on coastal coho salmon. This research breaks new ground on a number of fronts. First and most important we posit that it is the sequencing of events in the Pacific Northwest coastal ocean that affects marine survival of small coho salmon. This sequencing starts in the winter before ocean entry — what we call winter preconditioning set by the intensity of the winter Aleutian Low and the state of the tropical ENSO process. It then continues into the spring of ocean entry with the timing of the transition in prevailing coastal wind from SW to NW, the density structure of the upper ocean, and the intensity and variability of the coastal upwelling process. Finally ocean conditions during the first and only winter most coho spend in the ocean ends the sequence. In particular we point out that while this sequence seems to be what is important to coho productivity, the individual processes that make up the sequence are not necessarily correlated. A paper has been written and submitted to Fisheries Oceanography.
  3. Life history Responses to Climate: Pacific Sardine and Hake in the California Current Ecosystem—The Ph.D. research of Vera Agostini focuses on how the relationship between climate and ocean habitat for Pacific sardine and Pacific hake, throughout their life histories, affect manifestly different patterns in their population dynamics. Sardine is notorious for its outbreaks of high abundance followed by large crashes in the population — patterns which have temporal coherence throughout the N. Pacific. Hake, on the other hand, has shown high frequency spikes in production in alternation with periods of low abundance. Both species seem to have close temporal and spatial overlaps in terms of their spawning off Mexico and southern California and seasonal feeding migrations to the Pacific Northwest. The central questions addressed in Vera’s dissertation are:
    • How does the relationship between climate and ocean habitat for sardine and hake throughout their life histories affect such manifestly different patterns in population dynamics?
    • How might an awareness of this relationship in turn affect the way that we assess and manage their fisheries in the California Current Ecosystem

Models of Alternative Management Policies for Marine Ecosystems

Funded by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), Santa Barbara, California

This project supports the activities of a working group that will employ comparative approaches based on a common modeling framework developed for each of five large marine ecosystems in the North Pacific Ocean (Eastern Tropical Pacific, Central North Pacific, Eastern Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska Shelf, Pacific Northwest Shelf). Each of these ecosystems has served as the focus of controversy over the ecological consequences of fishery management practices, protection for threatened or endangered species, and the relative importance of large-scale environmental variability. Each of these ecosystems has been the focus of model development effort using the common framework of an Ecopath/Ecosim approach. By defining a common set of objective criteria for evaluating conservation strategies, economic goals and ecosystem management objectives, we will employ these five models as the basis for evaluating policy outcomes, clarify the conflict of alternatives, and provide guidance to realistic expectation from management actions.


I presently teach two courses in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences: Fish/QSci 456 (Introduction to Quantitative Fishery Science: Conservation and Management of Populations and Ecosystems) and Fish 101 (Aquatic Environmental Conservation and Management).


I serve on the Pacific Fishery Management Council Scientific and Statistical Committee, and steering committees for the History of Marine Animal Populations (HMAP) project and the North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Consortium.

Select Publications

Francis, RC, MA Hixon, ME Clarke, SA Murawski, S Ralston. 2007. Fisheries management: ten commandments for ecosystem-based fisheries scientists. Fisheries 32(5):217-233.

Hare, SR, NJ Mantua, RC. Francis. 1999. Inverse production regimes: Alaskan and West Coast Salmon. Fisheries 24(1):6-14.

Mantua, NJ, SR Hare, Y Zhang, JM Wallace, RC Francis. 1997. A Pacific interdecadal climate oscillation with impacts on salmon production. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc. 78(6):1069-1079.

National Research Council (R Francis, contributing author). 1996. The Bering Sea ecosystem. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.