Back | Home

What Is Ecosystem-based Management?

The traditional management strategy for fisheries and other living resources has been to focus on one species of fish and shellfish in isolation. For example, if there were a decline in the number of a certain kind of fish in the Bay, authorities might decide to decrease the number of that species that could be removed by fishing in a given year. The problem with this approach is that the impact of fishing on a single species is only one variable that affects the health of its population. Additional elements come in to play such as interactions with other species and the effects of pollution and other stresses on habitat and water quality. To more effectively assess the health of any given fishery and to determine the best way to maintain it, the entire ecosystem must be taken into account.

An ecosystem is a geographically specified system of organisms (including humans), the environment, and the processes that control its dynamics. Ecosystem approaches to management use integrated approaches to study and manage the resources of an entire ecosystem. This approach considers the cumulative impacts from various sources and the balance of conflicting uses. Using an ecosystem approach to manage aquatic resources, including fisheries, includes multiple factors such as pollution, coastal development, harvest pressure, predator/prey and other ecological interactions, and watershed management.

NOAA’s Approach

NOAA is taking an ecosystem approach to management that is:

  • Adaptive: Collaboratively developed management strategies are tailored to unique conditions and issues, and strategies are adapted and combined for an integrated approach.
  • Collaborative and voluntary: Mechanisms are in place to share information and receive feedback from others, and stakeholders are included in decision making within joint strategies.
  • Incremental: Ecosystem-scale information is improving as techniques and tools are developed in research, observations, forecasting, and management.
  • Regionally directed: A joint strategy plan with stakeholders is based on NOAA’s 10 regional ecosystems to meet desired ecosystem productivity and benefits.
  • Adaptable given ecosystem knowledge and uncertainty: Our marine resources are complex and dynamic; ecosystem approaches to management recognize that individual resources are better managed by addressing ecosystem components and processes while looking at cumulative impacts.
  • Inclusive of multiple external influences: Ecosystem approaches to management encourage decisions based on environmental, social, and political factors.