Ecosystem Considerations

There is now broad agreement that we need to adopt a more holistic approach to marine resource management at both the national and international levels. To accomplish this goal, the foundation of marine Ecosystem-based Management is now being developed and refined. Virtually all specifications of marine EBM share at least three common elements: (1) a commitment to establishing spatial management units based on ecological rather than political boundaries, (2) consideration of the relationships among ecosystem components, the physical environment, and human communities, and (3) the recognition that humans are an integral part of the ecosystem. We need to account for the important goods and services derived from marine ecosystems and the diverse and cumulative impacts of human activities in these systems (Figure 1) to forge a sustainable future.

The importance of implementing marine Ecosystem-based Management in the United States has recently been highlighted with the adoption of a new National Ocean Policy, established under presidential order on July 19, 2010. This policy identifies nine objectives, the first of which establishes Ecosystem-based Management (EBM) as its guiding principle. The second priority highlights the importance of Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning as a tool for EBM. It is clear that the impetus toward adopting the basic tenets of EBM is gaining momentum. We need to establish the scientific architecture in support of EBM in the region to meet these emerging challenges and opportunities. The objective of our Ecosystem Considerations website is to provide a broad overview of the ecology of the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf to support this overarching need. This region as a whole is recognized as one of more than 60 Large Marine Ecosystems distributed throughout the world ocean

Figure 1. Examples of some important ecosystem services (blue icons), stressors (red), adverse effects (yellow), and issues of special concern (green) that will be considered in Ecosystem-Based Management on the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf (adapted from image by Barbara Ambrose, National Coastal Data Development Center).

This site comprises several inter-related components designed to address different issues and needs. We seek to provide basic information on fundamental ecological properties of the system to the broad spectrum of stakeholders who will be engaged in the discussion of policy alternatives to meet the needs for Ecosystem-Based Management in the region. We build on the longstanding commitment of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center to understand and monitor changes in ecosystem structure and function in this region with the objective of informing management decisions (Figure 2).

Photo of NOAA ship FRV Bigalow

Figure 2. The NOAA FRV Henry B. Bigelow engaged in ecological research and monitoring on the Northeast U.S. continental shelf

In the Ecology of the Northeast Continental Shelf: Foundations for Ecosystem-based Fishery Management we provide a descriptive overview of important human, physical, and ecological dimensions of the system. Ecosystem-based Fishery Management (EBFM) is one element of the broader domain of Ecosystem-based Management. Currently we do not have a full legal and regulatory structure in place for implementation of marine EBM in the United States, although this will be established in the near future. It is possible now , however, to make important advances in elements of EBFM under the existing legal framework. We need to make sure that as we develop an approach to EBFM, it can be fully integrated into the more comprehensive EBM framework. One of the fundamental ways in which EBFM will differ from more traditional fishery management approaches is in the development of integrated management plans for entire ecological regions rather than for individual species/stocks by themselves. In turn, this structure will be expanded and enhanced by consideration of other ocean use sectors in the full EBM framework.

Our Ecosystem Advisory Reports are designed to provide twice-annual updates on changes in the Northeast Shelf system with a focus on physical properties and changes at the base of the food web. These observations are supplemented with highlights on selected observed changes in other components of the ecosystem. These reports are intended to be timely reviews of important ecological observations.

The Ecosystem Status Report first published in 2009 and intended to be periodically updated, provides a longer-term perspective on change on the Northeast Continental Shelf. The document is intended to complement the shorter-term perspective of the Ecosystem-Advisory Report.

Our Ecosystem Booklet was developed with the objective of providing a brief guide to major ecological considerations in moving toward Ecosystem-Based Fishery Management in this region. It has been distributed to a diverse audience of stakeholder groups and the general public as an introduction to this topic. The broader treatment in Ecology of the Northeast Continental Shelf: Foundations for Ecosystem-based Fishery Management is intended to build on the foundation of this document to provide additional detail.

Finally, the Ecosystem Brochure included here is intended to provide a concise overview of possible pathways for the implementation of Ecosystem-based Fishery Management in this region. Our objective is to complement more detailed reports and presentation provided to the fishery management councils and commissions in the Northeast in a readily accessible format.

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