Ecosystem-Based Management of What? An Emerging Approach for Balancing Conflicting Objectives in Marine Resource Management

  • Isaac C. Kaplan
  • Phillip Levin
Part of the Fish & Fisheries Series book series (FIFI, volume 31)

Managing marine resources has always been challenging, but this task looms ever larger as society demands more seafood while also requiring that we act as careful stewards of marine ecosystems. Evaluating management strategies in light of the diverse and changing demands of society for the goods and services the oceans provide requires that we clearly expose trade-offs among conflicting objectives. In this paper, we describe an approach using an Atlantis ecosystem model to evaluate management strategies and potential trade-offs between economic and conservation goals in the California Current ecosystem. We simulate a range of fishing intensities, and evaluate potential trade-offs between harvest maximization and the structure of the food web. Our results reveal that fishing combined with life history traits will alter the composition of the community such that short-lived, productive species replace longer-lived, lower productivity species. From an economic perspective, sustainably fishing productive high value species (Dungeness crab, hake, and squid) while overfishing less valuable, low productivity species (some rockfish) may seem like a wise choice; however, from a conservation perspective such a strategy would be completely unacceptable. We use the ecosystem model to visualize these trade-offs between economic and conservation concerns. We measure conservation and ecosystem structure by evaluating a suite of ecosystem indicators, such as ratios of the abundance of functional groups, and mean trophic level. The ratios of piscivore to planktivore, benthic to pelagic fish, and scavenger to piscivore all showed substantial shifts in community structure as levels of harvest increased. The mean trophic level of biological groups in the model was not sensitive to fishing intensity, and did not capture the associated shifts in the structure of the food web. Overall, we illustrate a simulation approach that can examine trade-offs between harvest and community-level indices of ecosystem structure. An ecosystem approach to management requires that we synthesize diverse physical, biological, and socioeconomic data and think critically about the ways in which our decisions affect the ecosystem services we value.

The whole trend of research and education is toward specialization on particular objects or particular organisms. These are stressed while the assemblage to which they belong is ignored or forgotten, together with the fact that they are to be regarded as integral parts of the system of nature. Shelford (1933)


California Current fisheries ecosystem model trade-offs ecosystem indicators Atlantis 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring DivisionNOAA FisheriesSeattle

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