Managing marine fisheries from an ecosystem perspective is a unique challenge, one that is bringing together numerous scientists on a new task force to move the science on this issue forward. Dubbed the Fishery Ecosystem Task Force, the group—funded by the Lenfest Ocean Program—will conduct their work under the leadership of Tim Essington from the College of the Environment’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. The group of 13 scientists will work to create a practical ‘blueprint’ that managers can use to make ecosystem-based fisheries management a reality.

Tim Essington
Tim Essington

“Scientists have long recognized and supported the idea that fisheries management should consider the relationships of the larger marine environment, but there hasn’t been a clear path to implementation,” said Essington, a marine ecologist who has studied in depth the interaction between fisheries and food webs. “It’s not as simple as managing one fish at time. If we want to continue catching, cooking, and eating fish, we need to maintain the health of the entire system.”

U.S. fisheries management is organized around Fishery Management Plans (FMPs), traditionally focused on a single species or a group of related species. Fisheries science has in the past been similarly oriented. Ecosystem-based fisheries management builds on single-species management by accounting for the relationships among all ecosystem components—marine organisms, humans, and the environment—in a holistic, synthetic, integrated fashion.

The task force will bring together natural and social scientists from diverse locations on every coast. Phil Levin, an ecologist and Senior Scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will co-chair the task force. He will also chair an advisory panel of members and staff of fishery management councils and staff from NOAA Fisheries.

“This task force will provide scientific guidance to implement ecosystem-based fisheries management and provide a path forward for managing our fisheries in a more sustainable way,” said Charlotte Hudson, director of the Lenfest Ocean Program. “The advisory panel is critically important because it will help the experts make recommendations that can be implemented using the management structures and data we have today.”

Some regional fishery councils have adopted or are drafting fishery ecosystem plans (FEPs) as a parallel to FMPs. But the plans differ substantially, and there is no common standard for what they should contain.

“We’re hoping to outline the most effective elements of these plans,” said Levin. “The goal is for managers to be able to use existing data in a way that is most useful for their region.”

The Fishery Ecosystem Task Force will provide a set of specific questions that every fishery ecosystem plan should address and a set of recommendations for how each question can be answered. The group will focus on guidance for U.S. fishery management councils but will also provide a framework that can be adapted by other management bodies.

The task force members include:

Timothy Essington, Chair, University of Washington
Phillip Levin, Co-Chair, NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center
Lee Anderson, University of Delaware
Alida Bundy, Bedford Institute of Oceanography
Courtney Carothers, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Felicia Coleman, Florida State University
Jonathan Grabowski, Northeastern University
Selina Heppell, Oregon State University
Edward Houde, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
Olaf Jensen, Rutgers University
Christian Molleman, University of Hamburg
Kenneth Rose, Louisiana State University
James Sanchirico, University of California Davis
Tony Smith, CSIRO Australia

Read more about the Task Force on the Lenfest Ocean Program’s website.