Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management
This management approach aims to maintain ecosystems in a healthy, productive, and resilient condition so they can provide the services humans want and need.
NOAA strives to adopt an ecosystem-based approach throughout its broad ocean and coastal stewardship, science, and service programs. Ecosystem-based management aims to maintain ecosystems in a healthy, productive, and resilient condition so they can provide the services humans want and need. In the fisheries sector, this approach is referred to as ecosystem-based fisheries management—or EBFM. While EBFM is directed toward fisheries management, we have adopted a similar approach—accounting for ecosystem interactions and considerations—for the protected and other marine species that we are mandated to manage.
EBFM is an Inclusive Manner of Managing Fisheries
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 its mortality from fishing. But fishing is only one variable that affects a species’ population. Additional elements come into play, such as interactions with other species, the effects of environmental changes, or pollution and other stressors on habitat and water quality. EBFM ensures that fishery managers consider these additional elements to more effectively assess the health of any given fishery and determine the best way to maintain it.
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. Our 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 Policy Act
NOAA Fisheries must address all these mandates simultaneously. To do that, we strive to implement our living marine resource stewardship responsibilities in a larger ecosystem context, rather than focusing on a single species. NOAA Fisheries has adopted an EBFM policy to more efficiently and effectively fulfill its mandates and promote consideration of the full range of cumulative effects and trade-offs across various management regimes and human uses, as well as the impacts of these management decisions on human systems.
NOAA Fisheries provides a range of science-based assessments and management advice for more than 450 regulated fishery stocks/stock complexes, nearly 100 threatened or endangered species, and over 100 marine mammal species. In addition, we provide science-based information to conduct over 2,000 habitat restoration projects nationwide and protect hundreds of thousands of square miles of habitat. To meet NEPA requirements, NOAA Fisheries generally conducts over 100 environmental assessments, writes more than 10 environmental impact statements, and issues several hundred categorical exclusions each year. NOAA Fisheries also oversees research and siting for a growing number of sustainable marine aquaculture activities. NOAA Fisheries has stewardship responsibilities for living marine resources throughout the U.S. exclusive economic zone, comprising 16.5 million square kilometers—an area 1.7 times the land area of the continental United States and roughly 5 percent of the world ocean’s surface area. Adopting EBFM will help meet the challenges across this wide range of responsibilities.
Benefits of EBFM
From providing additional information for making decisions, to increasing the certainty about the impact of those decisions, EBFM has many benefits. In particular, EBFM:
- Facilitates trade-offs between different stakeholder priorities, balancing social and ecological needs. It accomplishes this by:
- Addressing multiple legal mandates simultaneously.
- Maintaining ecosystem goods and services to deliver social, economic, and cultural benefits to society.
- Addressing cumulative impacts.
- Increasing stakeholder participation.
- Provides more information to make management decisions, which improves our ability to sustainably manage fisheries. It accomplishes this by:
- Improving managers’ understanding of the ecosystem as a whole.
- Contributes to an increased ability to predict likely outcomes of management actions. It accomplishes this by:
- Forecasting pressures and impacts on both single and aggregated components of a marine ecosystem.
- Providing a better understanding of how ecosystems and their components respond to multiple stressors.
- Ensures that ecosystem-level measures remain stable, which could translate into better regulatory stability and business plans. It accomplishes this by:
- Being cost-effective.
- Providing a more effective management framework.
- Being adaptive.
EBFM Policy and Road Map
NOAA Fisheries has developed an agency-wide EBFM policy, which outlines principles to guide long-term actions and decisions. It directs continued progress toward EBFM development and implementation and reinforces NOAA Fisheries’ commitment to incorporate EBFM into its resource management decisions. The policy has six guiding principles:
- Implement ecosystem-level planning.
- Advance our understanding of ecosystem processes.
- Prioritize vulnerabilities and risks of ecosystems and their components.
- Explore and address trade-offs within an ecosystem.
- Incorporate ecosystem considerations into management advice.
- Maintain resilient ecosystems.
NOAA Fisheries also recently released an EBFM Road Map to guide implementation of the EBFM policy over the next 5 years. The Road Map outlines actions to further the policy’s six guiding principles.