Sissenwine and Murawski on the new fisheries management paradigm

February 27, 2007
by Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sissenwine, M. and S. Murawski (2004). “Moving beyond ‘intelligent-tinkering’: advancing an ecosystem approach to fisheries.” Marine Progress Series 274: 291-295.

Sissenwine and Murawski are at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  NOAA is a scientific agency of the United States Department of Commerce focused on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere.  In this article, they consider the requirements for advancing ecosystem-based management approaches from the planning stages into practice.  They also discuss the roles of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

This article is focused specifically on fisheries management.  The authors begin by explaining the shift in terminology from Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management (EBFM) to Ecosystem Approaches to Fisheries (EAF).  In 2003, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) concluded EAF is the better term because it takes into account ecosystem processes in the formulation of management measures.

In practice, EAF is not necessarily a new type of scheme and need not take an entirely new direction from traditional fisheries management.  However, EAF is much more inclusive in terms of diversity and stakeholder involvement.  Sissenwine and Murawski discuss the urgent need for both science and governance institutions to evolve using EAF to bridge traditional single-species paradigms with ecosystem management which includes human activities.  The authors believe that MPAs are useful and have an even greater role under the EAF.  They are a good tool for controlling fishing mortality, reducing bycatch, and mitigating fishery interactions.  Although EAF and MPAs are not synonymous, they can work in unison to maintain complex marine ecosystems.

Ecosystem-based approaches will continue to be viewed as a mechanism for resolving conflicting objectives arising from species-by-species approach and for integration of biology, oceanography, law and politics, economics, and other social sciences.  Sissenwine and Murawski emphasize the need for closer ties between science and management in order to recognize and incorporate fundamental uncertainties in how biological components are linked.  They recommend adaptive strategies so that the best practical solution will be chosen.  The main benefit of EAF is that it offers a more complete and integrated account of the full range benefits and costs to society associated with developing sustainable approaches for living marine resources.


Rice on science advice: reference directions or reference points?

February 16, 2007
Rice, J. C. (2005). “Implementation of the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management – Asynchronous co-evolution at the interface between science and policy.” Marine Ecology Progress Series 300: 265-270.
Jake Rice, who has been a terrestrial ecologist and more recently an active science advisor on fisheries management councils, nicely outlines the clash of cultures and gets at the root causes of problems when scientists advise policy makers and managers on EAF. Rice points out some of the more expected components of the science-policy clash – policy makers are not risk prone and favor stable policy for a number of valid reasons, while scientists work in narrow fields that often moves slowly and they don’t articulate needs in a way that is useful to policy makers.

But Rice goes on to get into the more curious part of this problem, which is that specifically in the area of EAF (and probably EBM in general) some scientists may be too far ahead of both policy makers and maybe the state of science itself. That is, scientists (especially ecologists) take a broad view that falls in line with an ecosystem approach to management, but the necessary tools to do that are not fully developed (but see here for some great new developments) and the scientific information is not there to fully support this idea (whether this is a merely a question of not having the data to see if findings from several studies suggesting ecosystem collapse are generalizable, or if it’s the more serious problem of those studies being wrong in the first place is an unresolved question). Certainly, scientists haven’t fully dealt with the issue of uncertainty (although an interesting approach is to embrace uncertainty, as suggested by Popper and colleagues from Rand Corporation). Rice deftly points out that this is a two way street – managers, the public and policy makers often demand that scientists simplify and keep on message (so they discard the uncertainty) and at the same time scientists in the EAF debate have often deliberately downplayed uncertainty or only focused on a few narrow components of the total uncertainty of dealing with ecosystems.

As Rice puts it, scientists may be “undersell[ing] the transition costs” to EBM, although he agrees with the basic message of reducing activities that damage ecosystems. The key is in the difference between advising about ‘reference directions’ (relatively easy) vs. identifying ‘reference points’ (difficult – something to be put off “until later”) [Note: in my own Ed Ricketts-influenced world view, this is a clear statement on the difficulty, and importance, of ‘non-teleological’ thinking – moving from the “should” to the “is”]. So here is the crux of the problem, according to Rice – scientists in EAF have purportedly been ahead of the game, which has spurred managers to be more bold in going for EAF, but when it comes down to defining real references points for where the ecosystem should be, we may quickly hit the limits of science.

I have a mixed view of this conclusion. There are good examples where it is true that scientists can’t seem to provide robust findings to back up EBM focused positions. Terri Klinger of UW spoke well on this topic at the 2006 Western Society of Naturalists meeting. However, other voices, notably Jane Lubchenco and my colleagues at Duke are still fairly bullish about what new advances in social sciences and geo-spatial analysis can offer EBM. I’ve observed first hand the eye opening power of bringing someone like Pat Halpin or Larry Crowder to DC to talk with Congressional staff—the message I get is that there is uncertainty, but there is also a huge gap between the void that simple statement carves out and the new science that hasn’t penetrated the policy world.

Finally, I should mention Rice’s support of traditional ecological knowledge entering this debate (for further reading, check this volume, edited by Gray). I wholeheartedly agree. I’d suggest that the inevitable response of scientists to opening the door to traditional knowledge will be to insist that these statements are defensible and robust, thus opening themselves up to the same scrutiny.

Garcia and Cochrane -how to get EBM moving from the bottom up

February 16, 2007

Garcia, S. M. and K. L. Cochrane (2005). “Ecosystem approach to fisheries: A review of implementation guidelines.” ICES Journal of Marine Science 62(3): 311-318.

Garcia and Cochrane provide some international context to the ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF), focusing on the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and activities arising from the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). In particular, the WSSD calls for the lofty goals of elimination of destructive fishing practices, establishment of MPAs, and watershed planning by 2012, a deadline almost sure to be missed.

Garcia and Cochrane review aspects of the EAF as envisioned by the FAO. They are careful to note where conventional fisheries management may be difficult to adapt to an ecosystem context. For example, fisheries management typically deals with the “provisioning” services of an ecosystem (the stuff the ocean gives us – fish and jobs), but not so much the “cultural” services (that great feeling you get when you smell the sea air or the sudden pause you get thinking that right now, somewhere in the ocean, a white shark with ties to millions of years of evolution is shredding another fish back into proteins while nearby a tuna darts away warily) or the “supporting” services (nutrient cycling). Also, in conventional fisheries management resource conservation is really a thin veil for livelihood conservation. These approaches contrast with EAF in that the EAF puts protection of the natural ecosystem first.

Fig. 1 from Garcia and Cochrane 2005

Their figure 1 is a great illustration of the complexity of adopting EAF, or “extending” conventional management into EAF. But the current paper argues that there may be some hope here, by modifying existing infrastructures to an ecosystem approach. In doing so, new problems arise (you need to get the political will and buy-in from industry to move the ecosystem concept forward) and ever-present problems are still there (socio-economics of fishing as a livelihood).

A key statement here is, “The higher level of uncertainty inherent in an EAF requires also a capacity for the system to adapt as information improves.” How to make an adaptable system? Again, I go back to Vermeij, who goes back to nature for his wisdom in Nature: an Economic History. According to Vermeij, the most adaptable life forms are decentralized, relying on some basic “top down” orders, but letting semi-autonomous units sense and respond to the environment. This argument is echoed here in Garcia and Cochrane’s call for a decentralized process in which “lower-level processes can develop”.

The bulk of the article is dedicated to how those lower level processes—the “on the water” activities, rather than the rhetoric—can develop. EAF must have a policy, a strategy, and a management plan. In their vision, the policy is the connector – the way of harmonizing the high-level (e.g., federal or global) fishery goals with other national goals and aspirations and ethics or norms. As an illustration, think about the difference here with Norway and the US’ policies on whaling – one wants to whale, the other doesn’t. Norway is working on policies that try incorporate whaling with an EAF as critically discussed by Corkeron 2006. The US, where many people have fuzzy, but strongly held positions against killing whales, supports a policy of working toward EAF, but without the whaling. The strategy is how you rank what you are going to do within the policy. For example, if the policy is to restore ecosystems, the strategy might be to replant native shore grasses, then reduce nitrogen runoff, then reduce harvesting of coastal fish through the creation of MPAs, or some completely different combination. The strategy also includes establishing all the relationships, identifying the stakeholders and developing a process for decision making. Finally, the management plan—all that policy and strategy supposedly takes hold here—but it’s not a quick process either. Here’s where the data are gathered, performance measures and benchmarks are sent, people argue, projects begin, monitoring occurs, and hopefully, projects are adapted based on results of the monitoring.

All this will take a greatly increased capacity—for everything and for the key sectors – policy makers, scientists, and industry. As examples: Getting multiple stakeholders together. Making legislation and agencies work in harmony. Clarifying ecosystem interactions. Identify reference values and benchmarks. Observing on vessels. Reducing fishing capacity. Changing fishing gear. Getting more data on the resources. And, importantly, finding a way to store and disseminate all the data associated with these activities. Ready to get going?