Identifying ecological hotspots in the United States and Norway: Turning ecosystem-based management into practice?
Ecosystem based management (EBM) is an ocean management theory that examines an ecosystem holistically, accounting for both human uses and natural processes. EBM has gained popularity due to growing conflicts over ocean space, fueled by increasing demands for natural resources and a rising awareness for environmental values. EBM asserts that by scoping short-term natural resource exploitation to allow for the preservation of the ecosystem's core structure and function, sustainable long-term exploitation can be achieved. Therefore, determining the ecosystem's structure and function is a main tenet to EBM. To translate EBM theory to practice, important ecological areas, or “ecological hotspots,” are identified to understand the core ecosystem spaces that drive overall function. Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a process in which to operationalize EBM theory, including ecological hotspots. The literature has taken time to assess EBM from the theoretical perspective, however few studies exist that examine EBM-MSP interactions as EBM theory is translated into practice and secondly compare approaches across countries. This paper focuses on a comparative analysis of how ecological hotspots were (or are being) identified within two ecosystems, the Barents Sea and Gulf of Maine. The EBM ocean plans to be assessed are the Norwegian Barents Sea-Lofoten ocean management plan (BSMP) and the U.S. Northeast Ocean Plan (NEOP). It is found that the motivating factors that prompted the development of the BSMP and NEOP influenced when and how quickly ecological hotspots were determined. This paper aims to contribute to the discussion revolving around how EBM-MSP decision-making processes are operationalized.