In Ocean Conservancy and Pew Charitable Trusts’ recent report “The Law That’s Saving American Fisheries”, we make three key recommendations about how to improve the already vital law that governs our nation’s fisheries:
- Minimize the habitat damage and bycatch of indiscriminate fishing.
- Ensure that adequate forage fish are in the water to feed the larger ecosystem
- Promote ecosystem-based fisheries management
That’s why we were so excited when the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (Council) recently reached a long-awaited milestone in transitioning toward an ecosystem-based approach to managing seafood harvest. The Council’s adoption of a Fisheries Ecosystem Plan (FEP) establishes not only a comprehensive foundation for considering the condition of the California Current Ecosystem in harvest planning and management, but sets a leading example for modernizing fisheries management across the globe.
How is ecosystem-based management different? Instead of focusing on an individual ocean issues or species, the strategy shifts to the entire ecosystems in which such species or concerns exist. So decision-makers then consider the habitats that ocean wildlife require at each stage of life, their roles as predator and prey, the natural variations in populations in different places and at different times, and of course the critical role played by humans—climate change, ocean acidification, demands for food and recreation, etc.
Until now, managing the vast and life-giving harvest of seafood from the world’s oceans has followed a species-specific approach. This has contributed to well-known and tragic consequences, such as collapsed fisheries and the communities that depended on them.
The Fisheries Ecosystem Plan adopted last month gives the Pacific Fisheries Council a dramatically more comprehensive and useful suite of information to consider when making decisions on fisheries policy. The plan rests on a description of Pacific ecosystem dynamics that affect, and are affected by, Council harvest policy. It also establishes a set of initiatives to gather and assess additional ecosystem data for to use in future management decisions. Critically, they can guide Council policy within individual fishery Management Plans and also inform effects and tradeoffs between them. Initiative #1 will develop data and tools for use in managing the food base for Pacific fisheries – called “forage fish”, an essential ecosystem component, and assist in prohibiting fishing for currently unmanaged species of forage fish. The Council will discuss this critical preventative measure in June.
Though the Fisheries Ecosystem Plan is informational for now, meaning it holds only advisory power, it is a critical step in establishing a foundation for truly ecosystem-based management. The real effect of the plan will flow from its ecosystem initiatives, and action on the Forage Initiative in June will reveal how much early stock the Council is putting into its important new ecosystem plan.
These first steps taken in the Pacific region will hopefully serve as early indicators for the rest of the country as we work to promote and improve fisheries management. Read more about the Law That’s Saving American Fisheries here.