Human pressure could compromise the provision of ecosystem services if we do not implement strategies such as ecosystem stewardship to foster sustainable trajectories. Barriers to managing systems based on ecosystem stewardship principles are pervasive, including institutional constraints and uncertain system dynamics. However, solutions to help managers overcome these barriers are less common. How can we better integrate ecosystem stewardship into natural resource management practices? I draw on examples from the literature and two broadly applicable case studies from Alaska to suggest some generalizable principles that can help managers redirect how people use and view ecosystems. These include (1) accounting for both people and ecosystems in management actions; (2) considering historical and current system dynamics, but managing flexibly for the future; (3) identifying interactions between organizational, temporal, and spatial scales; (4) embracing multiple causes in addition to multiple objectives; and (5) acknowledging that there are no panaceas and that success will be incremental. I also identify next steps to rigorously evaluate the broad utility of these principles and quickly move principles from theory to application. The findings of this study suggest that natural resource managers are poised to overcome the barriers to implementing ecosystem stewardship and to develop innovative adaptations to social-ecological problems.
Ecosystem-based Management (EBM)
Modern resource management faces trade-offs in the provision of various ecosystem goods and services to humanity. For fisheries management to develop into an ecosystem-based approach, the goal is not only to maximize economic profits, but to consider equally important conservation and social equity goals. We introduce such a triple-bottom line approach to the management of multi-species fisheries using the Baltic Sea as a case study. We apply a coupled ecological-economic optimization model to address the actual fisheries management challenge of trading-off the recovery of collapsed cod stocks versus the health of ecologically important forage fish populations. Management strategies based on profit maximization would rebuild the cod stock to high levels but may cause the risk of stock collapse for forage species with low market value, such as Baltic sprat (Fig. 1A). Economically efficient conservation efforts to protect sprat would be borne almost exclusively by the forage fishery as sprat fishing effort and profits would strongly be reduced. Unless compensation is paid, this would challenge equity between fishing sectors (Fig. 1B). Optimizing equity while respecting sprat biomass precautionary levels would reduce potential profits of the overall Baltic fishery, but may offer an acceptable balance between overall profits, species conservation and social equity (Fig. 1C). Our case study shows a practical example of how an ecosystem-based fisheries management will be able to offer society options to solve common conflicts between different resource uses. Adding equity considerations to the traditional trade-off between economy and ecology will greatly enhance credibility and hence compliance to management decisions, a further footstep towards healthy fish stocks and sustainable fisheries in the world ocean.