About Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management;

NOAA strives to adopt an ecosystem-based approach throughout its broad ocean and coastal stewardship, science, and service programs. The goal of ecosystem-based management is to maintain ecosystems in a healthy, productive, and resilient condition so they can provide the services humans want and need. NOAA Fisheries refers to the ecosystem-based approach to management that is focused on the fisheries sector as ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM). While EBFM is directed towards fisheries management, a similar approach, accounting for ecosystem interactions and considerations, can be applied in the management of protected and other trust marine species.

EBFM is a new way of looking at the management of living marine resources. The traditional management strategy for fisheries and other living marine resources is to focus on one species in isolation. For example, if a particular species' population was declining, fishery managers might decide to reduce the annual catch limit the following year in an attempt to reduce overexploitation. However, fishing is only one variable that affects a species' population. Additional elements come in to play, such as interactions with other species, the effects of environmental changes, or pollution and other stresses on habitat and water quality. To more effectively assess the health of any given fishery and to determine the best way to maintain it, fishery managers should take ecosystem considerations into account.

EBFM Underlies the NOAA Fisheries Mission

NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the stewardship of the nation's living marine resources and their habitats, interactions and ecosystems. NOAA Fisheries' primary mandates are derived from numerous key statutes including the:

  • Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
  • Endangered Species Act
  • Marine Mammal Protection Act
  • National Aquaculture Act
  • National Environmental Protection Act

NOAA Fisheries must address all these mandates simultaneously and, to do that, is implementing its living marine resource stewardship responsibilities in an ecosystem context. NOAA Fisheries has adopted a policy of EBFM to more efficiently and effectively fulfill its mandates and promote consideration of not only cumulative effects, but also tradeoffs across various management regimes and human uses, as well as the impacts of these management decisions on human systems (Executive Order 13547 of July 19th 2010; Ocean Research Advisory Panel 2013). There are facets of ecosystem considerations in each of these mandates, but an ecosystem-based approach is needed to achieve the objectives across all of them simultaneously. Read more about the role EBFM plays in the NOAA Fisheries mission.

Benefits of Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management

From providing additional information for making decisions to increasing the certainty about the impact of those decisions, ecosystem-based fisheries management has a number of benefits.

  • Facilitates trade-offs between different stakeholder priorities, balancing social and ecological needs.
    • Addresses multiple legal mandates simultaneously.
    • Maintains ecosystem goods and services for delivering social, economic and cultural benefits to society.
    • Addresses cumulative impacts.
    • Increases stakeholder participation.
  • Provides more information to make management decisions, which should improve our ability to sustainably manage fisheries.
    • There will be fewer and smaller gaps between what occurs and what we expected to occur, and better understanding of the factors with the most impact on our fisheries.
    • In short, fewer surprises, fewer mistakes.
  • Contributes to an increased ability to predict likely outcomes of management actions.
    • Forecasts pressures and impacts on both single and aggregated components of a marine ecosystem.
    • Provides a better understanding of how ecosystems and their components respond to multiple stressors.
  • Provides more stability of ecosystem level measures and translates into better regulatory stability and business plans.
    • Is cost-effective.
    • Provides a more effective management framework.
    • Is designed to be adaptive.