New NOAA Fisheries plan adopts ecosystem management principles

June 2018

NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region, with its Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif., and Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, have released a new blueprint for how the agency will put ecosystem-based management principles into practice on the West Coast.

Young rockfish gather in Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the California Coast, part of the rich California Current Ecosystem along the West Coast of the United States. NOAA Fisheries is seeking public input on a draft implementation plan that advances ecosystem-based fisheries management in the California Current Ecosystem.

Young rockfish gather in Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the California Coast, part of the rich California Current Ecosystem along the West Coast of the United States. NOAA Fisheries is seeking public input on a draft implementation plan that advances ecosystem-based fisheries management in the California Current Ecosystem. Photo: Greg McFall, National Ocean Service

The draft Western Roadmap Implementation Plan (WRIP), tiered off NOAA Fisheries’ national Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management Policy and Roadmap, offers a distinctly different way of thinking about fisheries in the California Current Ecosystem. Instead of considering and managing species in isolation, fisheries managers will weigh the role of species in an ecosystem when making decisions.

The shift from single species to a systems approach represents a logical next step as NOAA Fisheries strives to balance long-term ecosystem protection with economic and human benefits while refining predictions and management advice.

Our scientists have used their growing understanding of ecosystem-scale relationships to develop a new system called EcoCast, which helps inform fishermen in the drift gillnet and other fisheries where they have the best chance of catching the species they’re after with the least risk of entangling or otherwise harming protected species such as sea turtles and porpoises.

Kelp forest represents one of the most productive environments in the California Current Ecosystem along the West Coast of the United States. NOAA Fisheries is putting into place principles of ecosystem-based fisheries management that accounts for relationships between and among species throughout the ecosystem.

Kelp forest represents one of the most productive environments in the California Current Ecosystem along the West Coast of the United States. NOAA Fisheries is putting into place principles of ecosystem-based fisheries management that accounts for relationships between and among species throughout the ecosystem. Photo: NOAA Fisheries

To learn more about West Coast ecosystem-based fisheries management and review the draft plan, please visit our website. You can share your comments on the draft WRIP via email at nmfs.westcoast-ebfm@noaa.gov. The WRIP is open to public comment until September 30, 2018.

“This draft plan highlights the commitments we’ve made to our partners, our stakeholders, and the public, to develop science and management practices that better account for the interactions we humans have with the marine environment, and that marine species have with each other, with their environment, and with us,” said Yvonne deReynier, coordinator of the plan for the West Coast Region.

As an example, the plan mentions how unusually warm ocean conditions off the West Coast have had a cascade of effects throughout the California Current Ecosystem, from lean salmon returns to whales foraging closer to shore than they had in more typical conditions and then becoming entangled with fishing gear. These cascading effects reverberate through fisheries management, through cutbacks in salmon catches and more focus on measures to keep whales from getting entangled in lines of Dungeness crab traps.

“Fortunately, the long-term ocean ecosystem monitoring along the West Coast enabled us to understand what was happening and make sense of how it fit into and, in some cases, buffeted the larger ecosystem,” said Toby Garfield, Acting Deputy Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and coordinator of the new implementation plan for the center.

The WRIP outlines six guiding principles, including implementing ecosystem-level planning, prioritizing vulnerabilities and risks to ecosystems and their components, incorporating ecosystem considerations into management advice, and finally, maintaining resilient ecosystems.

“Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about,” said Chris Harvey, a research scientist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and coordinator of the implementation plan for the center. “We are part of these ecosystems, so we want to make sure they are resilient both for us and for everything else that depends on them.”

Home page photo: Adam Obaza, NOAA Fisheries