Federal Fisheries Management: An Adaptive Ecosystem-based Perspective

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Urban, Dean L

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Marine ecosystem health has been severely degraded by years of overfishing and ineffective management. Fisheries provide a source of food, jobs, and products and are backed by significant commercial, social, and industrial interests. Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) was a major legislative benchmark for fisheries management, establishing regional management councils and national fishing standards. Single species, or target-focused management practices have been ineffective at preventing overfishing, bycatch, and habitat degradation. Fisheries continue to be unsustainable. The Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA - 1996 MSFCMA amendments) and the MSFCMA reauthorization in 2006, seek to shift management’s perspective to an ecosystem-based approach. The SFA formed the Ecosystem Principles Advisory Panel (EPAP) to research federal fisheries and management and to develop a model to advise Congress and managers.

The panel identified basic principles of marine ecosystems and developed policies for ecosystem-based management, promoting health and sustainability. The high degree of uncertainty associated with ecosystem-based management has created considerable opposition. Fishermen and industries are unwilling to trade current economic benefits for future marine health, despite the benefits of stable, sustainable harvests. The EPAP seeks to shift the burden of proof to the fishing industry, requiring fishing practices be shown not to harm ecosystem health before permitting them. Further research should consider the ecosystem effects of fishing, trends and dynamics to align science, policy, and management goals.

Panel recommendations extend current fishery management plans (FMPs) to consider fisheries on an ecosystem scale (fishery ecosystem plans, FEPs). FEPs consider interactions between target and non-target species, habitat, and human activities through precautionary management. There is no mandate for the adoption of FEPs, but the framework exists and policy is catching up with science. Many ecosystem principles are marginally applied in current management (i.e. marine protected areas). Progress has recently been made to transition from single-species fisheries management to ecosystem-based, but there is still room for improvement. Conservation groups and consumers can aid the implementation of regulation by rewarding sustainable fishing and management efforts. Only through future research, public support, inter-disciplinary cooperation, and risk-averse practices can fisheries management rebuild overexploited stocks and return fishery ecosystem health.





White, Callie (2007). Federal Fisheries Management: An Adaptive Ecosystem-based Perspective. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/425.

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