Ecosystem-based management (EBM) has become a key instrument of contemporary environmental policy and practice. Given the increasingly important role of EBM, there is an urgent need for improved analytical approaches to assess if and to what extent EBM has been accomplished in any given case. Drawing on the vast literature on EBM, we identify five key ecosystem aspects for assessment. By linking these aspects to four phases of management, we develop an interdisciplinary, analytical framework that enables a high-resolution and systematic assessment of the degree of specificity and integration of ecosystem aspects in an EBM. We then apply the framework to evaluate five coastal EBM initiatives in Sweden, four on the Baltic coast and one on the west coast. Our results demonstrate our framework’s usefulness for in-depth and continuous assessments of processes aiming for EBM, and also provide an empirical basis for inferences about the key challenges for successful EBM.
Ecosystem-based Management (EBM)
The Baltic Sea is a shallow, semi-enclosed sea in northern Europe, and the second largest brackish-water area in the world, after the Black Sea. It is surrounded by industrialized nations, and has a catchment that is four times its sea area, with a large riverine outflow to the sea. Its southern and eastern half harbors have extensive areas of intensive agriculture. The Baltic Sea is also a highly valued resource for the human population of roughly 85 million living around it (Fig. 1), but the ecosystem services it provides have been compromised in recent decades by deteriorated water quality, primarily due to eutrophication, exploitation of coastal areas, overfishing, and contamination by toxic pollutants. These problems are all caused by human activities, and international political structures have been created to manage them. The Helsinki Convention, governed by the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), handles environmental pollution, while fisheries since 2005 are governed through agreements between the EU, in accordance with its Common Fisheries Policy, and Russia, with advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Since its various problems interact extensively, there is general agreement that the Baltic Sea needs a common and ecosystem-based management of its marine environment.
A diverse range of response options is available for decision-makers to manage environmental change and meet sustainability objectives. These can include inter alia: top-down statutory regulation and levies; bottom-up initiatives including quality assurance networks or community-based partnerships; formal incentives; and voluntary market-based schemes such as ‘payments for ecosystem services’ or offsetting. Each type of response option has a distinct set of characteristics, which suggests that they may be best suited to different contexts rather than presumed to be effective in all circumstances. These attributes are used to develop a working typology to help understand the strengths and weaknesses of different response types, particularly regarding adaptation to long-term change and handling of uncertainty. To facilitate this, response types are referenced from a socio-ecological systems perspective using a refined version of the DPSIR integrated assessment framework to incorporate ecosystem functions and services. This shows that some responses are more clearly associated with maintaining resilience of natural functions, whilst others are directed at human-defined services. The role of stakeholders in response options can also be distinguished such as comparing mandatory or voluntary initiatives. Polluter-pays approaches are therefore distinguished from beneficiary-pays approaches. The typology can therefore provide a working reference framework for recognising complementary rather than conflicting interventions, as guided by the holistic principles of the Ecosystem Approach.
Ecosystem-based management (EBM) is the dominant paradigm, at least in theory, for coastal resource management. However, there are still relatively few case studies illustrating thorough application of principles of EBM by stakeholders and decision-makers. At Elkhorn Slough, a California estuary, we launched an EBM initiative in 2004. Stakeholders collaboratively developed and evaluated large-scale restoration alternatives designed to decrease two types of rapid habitat change occurring in the estuary, erosion of channels and dieback of salt marsh. In the end, decision-makers rejected large-scale alternatives altering the mouth of the estuary, and instead opted for small- to medium-scale restoration projects and recommended an added emphasis on reduction of nutrient-loading. We describe seven challenges encountered during the application of EBM principles: (1) interdisciplinary collaboration is difficult due to differences in professional culture and values, (2) roles and responsibilities of different participants are often not sufficiently clear, (3) implementing EBM is very costly in time and human resources, (4) an ecosystem services framework may not resonate with stakeholders already committed to biodiversity conservation, (5) conflicts arise from differences in desired restoration targets, (6) multiple geographic and jurisdictional scales cannot be simultaneously addressed, and (7) understanding of ecosystem drivers and processes may change rapidly. We recommend approaches to overcoming each of these challenges so that our experiences implementing EBM at one estuary can inform collaborative decision-making initiatives elsewhere.
This paper outlines the benefits of using the framework for an ecosystem approach to fisheries management (EAFM) for dealing with the inevitable yet unclear impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on coastal fisheries. With a focus on the Asia-Pacific region, it summarizes the projected biological and socio-economic effects of increased emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) for coastal fisheries and illustrates how all the important dimensions of climate change and ocean acidification can be integrated into the steps involved in the EAFM planning process. The activities required to harness the full potential of an EAFM as an adaptation to climate change and ocean acidification are also described, including: provision of the necessary expertise to inform all stakeholders about the risks to fish habitats, fish stocks and catches due to climate change; promotion of trans-disciplinary collaboration; facilitating the participation of all key stakeholders; monitoring the wider fisheries system for climate impacts; and enhancing resources and capacity to implement an EAFM. By channeling some of the resources available to the Asia-Pacific region to adapt to climate change into an EAFM, developing countries will not only build resilience to the ecological and fisheries effects of climate change, they will also help address the habitat degradation and overfishing presently reducing the productivity of coastal fisheries.
Ecosystem-based fisheries management has been perceived as something desirable but pragmatically unachievable due to several impediments identified earlier during its implementation phase. Over the years, many of these impediments have been resolved but not well communicated to stakeholders, managers, scientists, and policymakers. As a result, several past impediments to implementing ecosystem-based fisheries management have taken on a mythical status. Here we identify six common myths, address why they in fact no longer impede ecosystem-based fisheries management, and propose solutions for moving forward. We assert that these myths need not continue to exist and that improved approaches for fisheries are indeed feasible.
Understanding marine regime shifts is important not only for ecology but also for developing marine management that assures the provision of ecosystem services to humanity. While regime shift theory is well developed, there is still no common understanding on drivers, mechanisms and characteristic of abrupt changes in real marine ecosystems. Based on contributions to the present theme issue, we highlight some general issues that need to be overcome for developing a more comprehensive understanding of marine ecosystem regime shifts. We find a great divide between benthic reef and pelagic ocean systems in how regime shift theory is linked to observed abrupt changes. Furthermore, we suggest that the long-lasting discussion on the prevalence of top-down trophic or bottom-up physical drivers in inducing regime shifts may be overcome by taking into consideration the synergistic interactions of multiple stressors, and the special characteristics of different ecosystem types. We present a framework for the holistic investigation of marine regime shifts that considers multiple exogenous drivers that interact with endogenous mechanisms to cause abrupt, catastrophic change. This framework takes into account the time-delayed synergies of these stressors, which erode the resilience of the ecosystem and eventually enable the crossing of ecological thresholds. Finally, considering that increased pressures in the marine environment are predicted by the current climate change assessments, in order to avoid major losses of ecosystem services, we suggest that marine management approaches should incorporate knowledge on environmental thresholds and develop tools that consider regime shift dynamics and characteristics. This grand challenge can only be achieved through a holistic view of marine ecosystem dynamics as evidenced by this theme issue.
Regime shifts have been observed in marine ecosystems around the world, with climate and fishing suggested as major drivers of such shifts. The global and regional dynamics of the climate system have been studied in this context, and efforts to develop an analogous understanding of fishing activities are developing. Here, we investigate the timing of pelagic marine regime shifts in relation to the emergence of regional and global fishing activities of the Soviet Union. Our investigation of official catch statistics reflects that the Soviet Union was a major fishing actor in all large marine ecosystems where regime shifts have been documented, including in ecosystems where overfishing has been established as a key driver of these changes (in the Baltic and Black Seas and the Scotian Shelf). Globalization of Soviet Union fishing activities pushed exploitation to radically new levels and triggered regional and global governance responses for improved management. Since then, exploitation levels have remained and increased with new actors involved. Based on our exploratory work, we propose that a deeper understanding of the role of global fishing actors is central for improved management of marine ecosystems.
Three decades of study have revealed dozens of examples in which natural systems have crossed biophysical thresholds (‘tipping points’)—nonlinear changes in ecosystem structure and function—as a result of human-induced stressors, dramatically altering ecosystem function and services. Environmental management that avoids such thresholds could prevent severe social, economic and environmental impacts. Here, we review management measures implemented in ecological systems that have thresholds. Using Ostrom's social–ecological systems framework, we analysed key biophysical and institutional factors associated with 51 social–ecological systems and associated management regimes, and related these to management success defined by ecological outcomes. We categorized cases as instances of prospective or retrospective management, based upon whether management aimed to avoid a threshold or to restore systems that have crossed a threshold. We find that smaller systems are more amenable to threshold-based management, that routine monitoring is associated with successful avoidance of thresholds and recovery after thresholds have been crossed, and that success is associated with the explicit threshold-based management. These findings are powerful evidence for the policy relevance of information on ecological thresholds across a wide range of ecosystems.
For many years, fisheries management was based on optimizing yield and maintaining a target biomass, with little regard given to low-frequency environmental forcing. However, this policy was often unsuccessful. In the last two to three decades, fisheries science and management have undergone a shift towards balancing sustainable yield with conservation, with the goal of including ecosystem considerations in decision-making frameworks. Scientific understanding of low-frequency climate–ocean variability, which is manifested as ecosystem regime shifts and states, has led to attempts to incorporate these shifts and states into fisheries assessment and management. To date, operationalizing these attempts to provide tactical advice has met with limited success. We review efforts to incorporate regime shifts and states into the assessment and management of fisheries resources, propose directions for future investigation and outline a potential framework to include regime shifts and changes in ecosystem states into fisheries management.