Pelagic ecoregions: Operationalizing an ecosystem approach to fisheries management in the Atlantic Ocean
Tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations have committed to adopting an ecosystem approach to fisheries management (EAFM). Yet their progress has been relatively slow and patchy, lacking a long-term vision and a formalized plan to prescribe how fisheries will be managed from an ecosystem perspective. We argue that one of the impediments in this process has been the lack of well-defined spatial management units that are ecologically meaningful, as well as practical for fisheries management, to guide ecosystem-based planning, research and indicator assessments, to ultimately produce better integrated management advice. In this study, we propose seven potential ecoregions within the convention area of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The boundaries of the ecoregions rest on three pillars of information: the existing knowledge of biogeographic classifications of the pelagic environment, the spatial distribution of tuna and billfish species, and the spatial dynamics of the main fishing fleets targeting them. Each ecoregion is characterized by a set of ecologically meaningful biogeographic and oceanographic characteristics, tuna and billfish communities and fishing fleet patterns. The pelagic ecoregions proposed here aim to focus species- and fisheries-specific management of the tuna and billfish fisheries on specified regions. The proposed ecoregions represent an optimal, ecologically sound starting point, based on the best science available, to foster debate and consultative process in ICCAT for moving forward the implementation of the EAFM.