Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management

Ecosystem-based fisheries management is a holistic approach that recognizes all the interactions within an ecosystem rather than considering a single species or issue in isolation. 

What is ecosystem-based fisheries management?

Ecosystem-based fisheries management is a holistic way of managing fisheries and marine resources by taking into account the entire ecosystem of the species being managed. 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. The EBFM approach also can be applied in the management of protected and other trust marine species.

The traditional management strategy for fisheries and other living marine resources was to focus on one species, in isolation. For example, if a particular species' population was declining, fishery managers might reduce the annual catch limit the following year in an attempt to reduce overexploitation. However, fishing is only one variable affecting a species' population. Additional elements come into play, such as interactions with other species, the effects of environmental changes, or pollution and other stresses on habitat and water quality.

Why is NOAA Fisheries using ecosystem-based fisheries management?

NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the stewardship of the nation's living marine resources and their habitats, interactions, and ecosystems. Under our key statutory mandates, we are responsible for:

  • More than 450 regulated fishery stocks/stock complexes.
  • More than 150 threatened or endangered species.
  • More than 100 marine mammal species.
  • Living marine resources in 11 large marine ecosystems.

EBFM is the most efficient and effective way for NOAA Fisheries to address this vast range of responsibilities simultaneously. It allows us to consider the full range of trade-offs, interactions, and cumulative effects.

What are the benefits of ecosystem-based fisheries management?

EBFM is beneficial in decision-making, and improves our ability to predict the impact of those decisions. It is also cost-effective and designed to be adaptive. Specifically, EBFM:

  • Facilitates trade-offs between different stakeholder priorities, balancing social and ecological needs.
  • Forecasts pressures and impacts on both single and aggregated components of a marine ecosystem, and provides a better understanding of how ecosystems and their components respond to multiple stressors.
  • Provides more stability of ecosystem level measures.

NOAA Fisheries has developed an agency-wide EBFM Policy, which outlines a set of principles to guide our actions and decisions over the long term. It directs continued progress toward development and implementation of EBFM approaches. It also ensures our commitment to incorporate EBFM into the agency’s resource management decisions.

What are integrated ecosystem assessments?

Integrated ecosystem assessments are a way to better manage resources, and they provide a sound scientific basis for EBFM. These assessments provide a structure to assess ecosystem status relative to objectives of different groups (e.g., fishing, recreation, energy production, shipping, agriculture, forestry, food, clean water), account for the holistic impact of management decisions, and guide management evaluations.

IEAs consist of analyses that help resource managers make more informed and effective management decisions. For example, IEAs contain:

  • Assessments of status and trends of the ecosystem condition, including ecosystem services.
  • Assessments of activities or elements in an ecosystem that can stress it.
  • Prediction of the future condition of the ecosystem under stress if no management action is taken.
  • Prediction of the future condition of the stressed ecosystem under different management scenarios, and evaluation of the success of management actions in achieving the desired target conditions.

Where does NOAA use integrated ecosystem assessments?

NOAA is building a national Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Program that will include eight regions based on U.S. large marine ecosystems:

Work is underway to develop and implement IEAs in five of these regions: California Current, Gulf of Mexico, Northeast Shelf, Alaska Complex, and Pacific Islands. IEAs for the Southeast Shelf, Caribbean, and Great Lakes regions will follow as the program grows.