Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management

Ecosystem-based management is a new way of looking at management of living resources. NOAA is taking the lead in encouraging states to work across jurisdictional boundaries to implement ecosystem-based fisheries management in the Chesapeake Bay. NOAA supports a move to ecosystem approaches to management for fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay in order to restore, enhance, and protect living resources, their habitats, and ecological relationships to sustain all fisheries and provide for a balanced Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

The Chesapeake Bay is home to more than 250 species of fish and shellfish. Ever since European settlement, the Chesapeake Bay’s rich estuarine ecosystem has supported major fisheries and the livelihoods of residents who adopted a water-dependent way of life. But over recent decades, the populations of many of these fish and shellfish have declined dramatically, due to pollution, habitat loss, and overfishing.

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. But fishing of 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, and includes multiple factors such as pollution, coastal development, harvest pressure, predator/prey and other ecological interactions, and watershed management.

How Are Ecosystem Approaches to Management Used in the Bay?

To clarify how ecosystem approaches for fisheries will work in the Chesapeake Bay, scientists at the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office participated on the Chesapeake Fisheries Ecosystem Plan Technical Advisory Panel, which included fisheries scientists from institutions around the Bay as well as federal and state agencies. The Panel developed Fisheries Ecosystem Planning for Chesapeake Bay. (Hard copies of this document are available for through the American Fisheries Society.)

Fisheries Ecosystem Planning for Chesapeake Bay describes the structure and function of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, including key habitats and species interactions. Further, it serves as a guide to ecosystem approaches to individual fishery management plans, and includes recommendations for implementing these plans. It also recommends specific research that will help scientists in the future use their knowledge to support the entire ecosystem.

Based on the principles in Fisheries Ecosystem Planning for Chesapeake Bay, the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office and Maryland Sea Grant, in coordination with state and federal agency partners and research institutions, are facilitating the development of a new operational format for ecosystem-based fishery management in the Chesapeake Bay. This project will lead to the adoption of five ecosystem-based fishery management plans that move beyond traditional single-species management plans to consider the interconnections between species, their physical and livng environments, and human influences.