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Managers to review how fishing affects ecosystem

April 10th, 2013 by cdunagan

The Pacific Fishery Management Council decided yesterday that it was time to consider, within its management plans, how large-scale fishing at certain times and places can create ripple effects in the food web.

Plan

The council adopted a new Fishery Ecosystem Plan to help manage West Coast fisheries, broadening the view of how fishing can shape the entire ocean community.

“It’s the beginning of a paradigm shift in fisheries management,” Paul Shively of Pew Charitable Trusts told Jeff Barnard, environmental reporter for the Associated Press.

In the past, managers have tried to figure out what level of fishing can be sustainable. Now, in theory, they will also consider how a reduction in the numbers of certain fish can affect marine creatures that might want to eat them or be eaten by them.

“We’ve always managed our oceans on a species-by-species level,” Shively noted. “By developing an ecosystem plan we begin to look at how everything is connected in the ocean.”

Dan Wolford, chairman of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, offered this observation in a news release (PDF 119 kb) from PFMC:

“We now enter into a new era of more sophisticated fishery management. We heard strong public testimony calling for more protection for unmanaged forage fish, and the council’s adoption of this motion today formalizes the council taking this up this as a fishery management action.”

Jane Lubchenco, former director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the agency has been talking about the ecosystem-based approach since the 2006 renewal of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

“Taking an ecosystem approach to fisheries management is widely viewed as an enlightened approach to fishery management, because it recognizes that the target species of interest exists within a broader ecosystem,” she said in Barnard’s piece. She is now a visiting professor at Stanford University,

The Fishery Ecosystem Plan does not replace existing management plans, including those for salmon, groundfish, highly migratory species or coastal pelagic species. But it does call for the consideration of more factors before making management decisions, and it mandates an annual “State of the Ecosystem” report.

One initiative connected to the plan calls for the prohibition of targeted fishing for unmanaged forage fish until the impacts are better known. Eight other initiatives will discuss how harvest affects stocks, bycatch, habitat, fisheries safety, fisheries jobs, response to climate change, socioeconomics, and other factors.

For extra reading: I found the discussions about managing krill in the Antarctic to be revealing. See “License to Krill: A Story About Ecosystem-Based Management” on NOAA’s website. It includes this tidbit:

“When fishing reduces the population of one species, there are ripple effects throughout the marine food chain. For instance, if the human species takes more krill out of the ecosystem, the populations of other animals that prey on krill might decline.

“But it’s not just a question of how much krill we take. Where and when we take it are also important. Penguin chicks need to find food when they fledge at the end of their first summer. For certain species of seals, which carry their pregnancies through winter, wintertime forage is critical. By identifying where and when these critical periods occur, scientists can advise fishery managers on how best to reduce the impacts of fishing on the other species we care about.”

I discussed the ecosystem plan briefly in the latest installment of a series of stories dealing with Puget Sound’s ecosystem and indicators chosen by the Puget Sound Partnership. We call it “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound.”

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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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