Boesch and lessons learned from Louisiana and the Chesapeake

June 25, 2008

Boesch, D. F. (2006). “Scientific requirements for in the restoration of Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Louisiana.” Engineering 26(1): 6-26.

Here Donald Boesch analyzes two ostensibly ecosystem based management programs based on four broad principles that are generally considered key to an ecosystem-based approach: 1) integration of multiple ecosystem components; 2) sustainability as a goal; 3) precautionary approach; and 4) adaptive methodologies. These are all very broad concepts with potential for multiple interpretations, as the author notes. The challenge he raises is then how can scientific advancements help with the practical application of these concepts?

Boesch starts with the idea that the real challenge for EBM is how to implement it in the field, and thus his focus on case studies in Louisiana and the Chesapeake. He then discusses how the four broad principles can be better applied to these cases through increased scientific input. For integration he points out that simulation models (run forward or backward) can be used to capture some key elements (e.g., the relationship between land use practices, runoff and nutrient loading in a bay), but that they still fail to provide a complete quantitative picture (e.g., we still can’t quantitatively connect nutrient loading in a bay to human health outcomes). Boesch notes that a major challenge here, from both the science and management sides, is that work (academic departments, journals, technical panels) tends to be fairly narrowly focused on one issue (e.g., toxic metals) rather than integrative from the start.

On the issue of sustainability, Boesch turns to “resilience” as a goal with perhaps a better chance of practical implementation. Invariably, this discussion raises the question of whether ecosystems have steady states that ecosystem properties (water quality, diversity, turnover, etc.) gravitate towards. My worry here is that it may be possible to note where an ecosystem has lost resilience (e.g., Louisiana in the 2005 hurricane season) or has declined to an undesirable state, but is it possible to design restoration with a particular resilient goal in mind?

Boesch notes that both in Louisiana and the Chesapeake the precautionary principle is mostly being applied in hindsight, focusing on the consequences of not reducing existing impacts rather than strictly on preventing future impacts.

On adaptive management Boesch importantly notes the difference between true adaptive management and “trial and error” management. In particular, a true adaptive management program must set explicit expectations and periodically monitoring how closely those expectations are being met, and make adjustments as necessary to bring expectations and reality closer. In responding to the recent blueprint for ocean research priorities in the US, several members of the Duke Nicholas School faculty and I pointed out the failure to explicitly differentiate adaptive management and “trial and error” as a weakness of the plan (available here). Boesch also points out the risk of being too reliant on predictive models in lieu of actual field data and monitoring in assessing the results of adaptive management.

Boesch offers five broad solutions for the scientific community, two of which are focused on institutions and norms in science and three focused on actual research areas. First, he argues that scientists should be more “solutions based”. This is always a tricky argument, given the institutional impediments (in funding, tenure granting and job candidate selection, for examples), but there are clearly both individual examples of people who have made this transition (e.g., Jane Lubchenco, Stuart Pimm) and institutional examples (Boesch points to the field of human health research). Second, Boesch calls for better bridging between science and management. I think many of the same institutional barriers apply here, especially with regard to training in most academic departments (if I may make a shameless plug here, the Nicholas School at Duke, to which I am a newcomer, seems to turn out a large number of well-trained scientists who end up in key marine management positions). Third, Boesch makes a plea for more predictive analyses, particularly with regard to thresholds of resilience in ecosystems. This seems like a particularly large (though important) task considering our current fairly basic understanding of resilience in ecosystems. Fourth, he argues for better scientific clarity on the issue of uncertainty and how to get beyond uncertainty as an impediment to progress. This is at the core of the science-politics interface with regard to the issue of climate change, as Stephen Schneider has often addressed. Finally, he calls for a more integrative approach to adaptive management including the direct comparison of different predictive models. This seems especially important in light of the ascendancy of Ecopath/Ecosim type models despite varying degrees of discomfort about the many assumptions that must be made in using them (sounds like a good topic for a debate here).

Save Our Shores Act

June 25, 2008

By Sheril Kirshenbaum


From:  Sheril Kirshenbaum
Re:  Save Our Shores Act

Save Our Shores Act H.R. 1091


  • Introduced in the House by Florida Representatives Connie Mack and Kathy Castor.
  • Harmful algal blooms (HABs) like red tide cause humans respiratory distress.
  • Children and seniors are most at risk.
  • Habs contaminate shellfish.
  • They negatively impact coastal states’ socioeconomics through tourism.
  • It’s estimated that HABs cost communities in the United States nearly $100 million every year.


  • H.R. 1091 would increase funding for scientific research to combat HABs and their effects.
  • Specifically, would increase funding for peer-reviewed research into causes and effects of red tide and strengthen existing algal bloom research programs.


H.R. 1091 Save Our Shores Act would improve the state of our oceans.  It has bipartisan support of many coastal policymakers.

*Latest Major Action: *2/23/2007 Referred to House subcommittee. Status:
Referred to the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans.

Babcock and Pikitch Seek Definition

June 25, 2008

By Sheril Kirshenbaum

Babcock, E. A. and E. K. Pikitch (2004). “Can we reach agreement on a standardized approach to ecosystem-based fishery management?” Bulletin of Marine Science 74(3): 685-692.

Unlike traditional single species fisheries management, ecosystem based management practices are brand new.  Thus the objectives, goals, and scientific methodology are not well defined to date.  For EBFM to move beyond single species management as the conceptual basis of US fisheries management, we must move from theory to a straightforward and convincing framework that is mutually agreed upon.  Inclusion of ecosystem values such as biodiversity and ecosystem function in fisheries management under US fisheries law will require the evolution of a consensus on a standardized, practical approach to EBM.

Hilborn’s Fisheries Atheism

June 25, 2008

Hilborn, R. 2006. Faith-based fisheries. Fisheries 31:554-555.

Ray Hilborn throws the evolution/intelligent design debate into the laps of all of us concerned with the state of the oceans with this provocative piece suggesting that many current ideas about the state of over-fishing are over-stated, in fact, they are taken on faith.  This article strikes a nerve, because as a scientist who also works on policy issues I often wonder how much of the “science” I am relaying (e.g., findings about perchlorate published in EHP that I would relay to my old boss Congresswoman Hilda Solis) did I actually just take on faith?  The usual answer is that we have “faith” in the peer review system that the science reported is not faith based, but based on some accepted methodology and norms in science.  Hilborn goes right to the heart of this argument by suggesting that many of the more alarming recent papers, especially in Science and Nature are either not properly peer reviewed or not properly followed up upon when new contradictory information appears.   He suggests that both the idea of failed fisheries management and papers that purportedly show massive overfishing are taken on faith.   Hilborn specifically attacks a handful of papers, and I leave it to those authors to defend their work, here (in the comments below) or elsewhere.

The larger question raised by Hilborn’s piece is – is there a systematic flaw, especially in these flashy journals, and especially in the area of fisheries research? All of us who have published in science have seen flaws in the peer review system (I’m still pissed about a paper that got sunk by one very highly esteemed reviewer who happened to be completely wrong).

One solution is Hilborn’s idea of publishing names of those reviewers who supported publication.  The benefit, according to Ray, is that then we’d know if there were some consistent source of bias (are the same old folks reviewing all these papers?).  I can see a few problems with this.  Knowing who supported a past paper of yours may subconsciously bias you toward supporting their paper when you are reviewing it (scientists are human after all).  Moreover, this may lead to biases in who is selected to review papers.  Hilborn, for example, might ask editors not to let a person who has favorably reviewed these “doom and gloom” papers to review his work; or the “doom and gloom” crowd might target a limited subset of “yes” men and women to review theirs.  It would seem that the best you could do with this kind of “outing” of reviewers is make a Bill O’Reilly Fox News style blacklist of people you can only argue post-hoc are going too easy on a subset of authors.  I’m not a fan of creating strawmen that seem to fit a certain framework and then knocking them down – let’s argue on the individual

I hope that this forum can provide a better solution – that is, a way to quickly (rather than the laborious and uncertain process of publishing a counter argument and waiting for a counter counter argument to appear in the same or another journal – a process Hilborn rightly points out as flawed) get into discussion on controversial new papers.

Block takes lessons from a tuna’s perspective

June 25, 2008
by Sheril Kirshenbaum

Block, B. A., et al. (2003). “Revealing pelagic habitat use: the tagging of Pacific Pelagics program.” Oceanologica Acta 25 255-266

Barbara Block is based at Stanford University and established the Tuna Research and Conservation Center.  Tuna and billfish are highly exploited in international fisheries and effective management  of existing biodiversity requires an understanding of their biology and population structure.  Block and colleagues catch and tag these pelagic animals to examine short and long-term movement patterns, stock structure and behavior.

The Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP) research project explores the Pacific, using a carefully selected group of animals from its ecosystems to gather data about their world.  TOPP is a pilot program of the Census of Marine Life (COML), an international endeavor to determine what lives, has lived and will live in the world’s oceans.  TOPP is jointly run by Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Lab, the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Long Marine Laboratory, NOAA’s Pacific Fisheries Ecosystems Lab, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium including team members from several countries.  Scientists tag 21 different species  of marine animals in the Eastern Pacific to understand how they live.

By taking a multispecies approach, these autonomous ocean ‘samplers’ provide unprecedented coverage of the water column structure of the North Pacific.  The approach can be used to support the establishment of managed areas – called a “marine conservation corridors” – between the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), Coco Islands (Costa Rica), Coiba Island  (Panama), and several other islands of the  region.  TOPP can be applied around the world and incorporated in management planning to include human resource extraction which is fundamental in EBM

Frid et. al. tackle uncertainty

June 25, 2008
by Sheril Kirshenbaum

Frid, C., O. O. A. L. Paramor, C. L. Scott. “Ecosystem-based management of fisheries: is science limiting?.” ICES Journal of Marine Science 63: 1567-1572

Chris Frid et. al. do a good job in this article of summarizing the state of Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) by pointing out challenges, limitations, and new opportunities.  They define the ecosystem approach as one promoting conservation and equitable, sustainable management of land, water, and living resources by relying on scientific understanding of ecosystem structure, processes, functions, and interactions (including humans).  Frid et. al. recognize that ecosystems cut across traditional management sectors which leads to their review of why this approach is inherently difficult and complex.  This paper considers how science contributes to the wider fisheries management agenda of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD; UN, 1992) and EBM in general.

Fishing impacts ecosystems in many ways and only some of which are addressed in current management practices.  The authors touch on the many shortcomings of applying EBM in practice.  They term these “knowledge gaps” meaning areas where there remains a great deal of uncertainty and limited understanding.  Examples include the way current management plans do not address climate effects, hydrography, and other external forces.  Information problems arise because we do not completely understand how these processes drive fish stock dynamics.  Additionally, the optimal number and spatial distribution of protected areas is difficult to determine due to the dynamic nature of marine systems.  Further, it is agreed upon that we need to protect genetic diversity, but difficult to come up with appropriate measures by which to accomplish this.  Finally, we cannot predict with certainty how fishers will respond to management measures.  The big overarching question posed by the authors is how we may incorporate uncertainty into policy.

Frid et. al. suggest social and political colleagues must address the aforementioned barriers in current administrative frameworks by calling for joint natural and social science initiatives.  Although effort reduction and closed areas are the most effective measures to benefit fisheries and habitat features, they are incomplete alone.  EBM is participatory and those in the decision making process must understand that there will be no single source or consensus on the best practice.  The principle conclusion is that a wider range of natural and social sciences will be necessary to inform policy.