Fluharty’s call to action

Fluharty, D. (2005). “Evolving ecosystem approaches to management of fisheries in the USA.” Marine Progress Series 300: 248-253.

David Fluharty, who chaired a Congressionally mandated panel on ecosystem approaches to fisheries management (EPAP – see http://www.st.nmfs.gov/st7/documents/epap_report.pdf), provides a nice brief history of the ecosystem approach in fisheries, even noting that EBM approaches can be dated back to the 19th century in New England. He argues that consensus on how to do EBM in fisheries will only come through “experience gained in actions implemented”. This is the kind of “non-teleological” approach espoused by Ed Ricketts, and also has an element of inductively building observations to achieve a better understanding, an approach which Ricketts in turn credits to Darwin. Fluharty acknowledges that fisheries management is not EBM, but argues that ecosystem approaches to fisheries management are a way to show proof of concept. This paper focuses on progress that’s been made so far, rather than where we have failed to implement EBM.

Fluharty also discusses both the promise and pitfalls of implementing Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) as part of an ecosystem approach. The complexity of understanding habitat needs in an ecosystem context is both the strength and weakness of this approach. Doing it correctly provides invaluable information for EBM, but it is also time consuming and expensive, which initially forced lawsuits and delays within the regional management councils

The key, in the analysis of Fluharty and the EPAP panel, is a “bottom up” approach, which allows managers to incrementally develop ecosystem based approaches and amend them as necessary, rather than another “top-down” government mandate. This same “bottom up” vs. “top down” tension is evident in the debate over no-take marine reserves vs. conventional fisheries management, nicely outlined in an upcoming paper by Jones. The potential drawbacks of this approach are lack of local funding and lack of incentive to change plans, but Fluharty argues that these are outweighed by the ability to develop demonstration projects to show that ecosystem approaches have utility. Fluharty, and the EPAP panel he chaired, puts a lot of weight on the 1996 MSA amendments (known as the Sustainable Fisheries Act [SFA]), although this should be tempered by Rosenberg’s recent analysis which reveals that very few stocks have been rebuilt despite the mandates of the SFA.

A frequent question, that Fluharty anticipates here, is “why all the focus on fisheries management, if the goal is ecosystem management?” Fluharty’s view is basically that if you want to move from concept to action, fisheries management has much of the necessary infrastructure already set up. Start with the fish and the ecosystem will follow.

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