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Ecosystem based fisheries

Kishor K.T., Narasimha Moger., Pradeepkumar N.,Chandrashekar B. H., Rajeish Moger., Harshavardhan Joshi.,

KVAFSU, College of Fisheries, Mangalore, Karnataka, India

Corresponding author:


Today the fishing industry points to pollution and global warming as the causes of unprecedented low fish stocks in recent years, writing, "Everybody would like to see the rebuilding of fish stocks and this can only be achieved if we understand all of the influences, human and natural, on fish dynamics." Over fishing has also had an effect. Frid adds, "Fish communities can be altered in a number of ways, for example they can decrease if particular sized individuals of a species are targeted, as this affects predator and prey dynamics. Fishing, however, is not the sole perpetrator of changes to marine life - pollution is another example. No one factor operates in isolation and components of the ecosystem respond differently to each individual factor." In contrast to the traditional approach of focusing on a single species, the ecosystem-based approach is organized in terms of ecosystem services. Ecosystem-based fishery concepts have been implemented in some regions.

In 2007 a group of scientists offered the following Ten Commandments

  • Keep a perspective that is holistic, risk-adverse and adaptive.

  • Maintain an "old growth" structure in fish populations, since big, old and fat female fish have been shown to be the best spawners, but are also susceptible to overfishing.

  • Characterize and maintain the natural spatial structure of fish stocks, so that management boundaries match natural boundaries in the sea.

  • Monitor and maintain seafloor habitats to make sure fish have food and shelter.

  • Maintain resilient ecosystems that are able to withstand occasional shocks.

  • Identify and maintain critical food-web connections, including predators and forage species.

  • Adapt to ecosystem changes through time, both short-term and on longer cycles of decades or centuries, including global climate change.

  • Account for evolutionary changes caused by fishing, which tends to remove large, older fish.

  • Include the actions of humans and their social and economic systems in all ecological equations

Ecosystem-based management is an environmental management approach that recognizes the full array of interactions within an ecosystem, including humans, rather than considering single issues, species, or ecosystem services in isolation (Christensen et al. 1996, McLeod et al. 2005).Terrestrial ecosystem-based management (often referred to as ecosystem management) came into its own during the conflicts over endangered species protection (particularly the northern spotted owl), land conservation, and water, grazing and timber rights in the western United States in the 1980s and 1990s (Yaffee 1999).

Interest in ecosystem-based management in the marine realm has developed more recently, in response to increasing recognition of the declining state of fisheries and ocean ecosystems (POC 2003, USCOP 2004, and Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005).As described in McLeod and Leslie (2009),

Key elements of marine ecosystem-based management (EBM) include:

1. Connections: At its core, EBM is about acknowledging connections, including the linkages between marine ecosystems and human societies, economies and institutional systems, as well as those among various species within an ecosystem and among ocean places that are linked by the movement of species, materials, and ocean currents.

2. Cumulative impacts: EBM focuses on how individual actions affect the ecosystem services that flow from coupled social-ecological systems in an integrated fashion, rather than considering these impacts in a piecemeal manner.

3. Multiple objectives: EBM focuses on the diverse benefits provided by marine systems, rather than on single ecosystem services. Such benefits or services include vibrant commercial and recreational fisheries, biodiversity conservation, renewable energy from wind or waves, coastal protection, diving, and sea kayaking.

4. Embracing change: Coupled social-ecological systems are constantly changing in ways that cannot be fully predicted or controlled. Understanding the resilience of these systems, i.e., the extent to which they can maintain structure, function, and identity in the face of disturbance, can enable better prediction of how they will respond not only to both natural and anthropogenic perturbations, including changes in environmental management.

5. Learning and adaptation: Because of the lack of control and predictability of coupled social-ecological systems, an adaptive management approach is recommended.

Notably, there is no single correct path to ecosystem-based management — on land or in the ocean. The approach will be put into practice in many different places across a range of geographic scales, each with its own unique historical, ecological, and social context. The range of suitable strategies will also vary based on the types of management and governance already in place

The Ecosystem Approach is considered one of the most important principles of sustainable environmental management. The Fifth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity defined the Ecosystem Approach in Decision V/6, Annex a, section 1 as "a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way" Essentially it requires the taking into consideration of the effects of actions on every element of an ecosystem, based on the recognition that all elements of an ecosystem are linked.


There is no doubt that there is a major problem with the world's fisheries, and, despite serious attempts to improve management and to facilitate recovery of depleted stocks, the success has been limited. Managing fisheries is about managing people and businesses, and not about managing fish. Fish populations are managed by regulating the actions of people. If fisheries management is to be successful, then associated human factors, such as the reactions of fishermen, are of key importance, and need to be understood. The management of commercial fisheries clearly requires a good scientific understanding of the behavior of the exploited stock or stocks. Management regulations must also consider the implications for stakeholders. Commercial fishermen rely on catches to provide for their families just as farmers rely on crops. Commercial fishing can be a traditional trade passed down from generation to generation. Most commercial fishing is based in towns built around the fishing industry; regulation changes can impact an entire town’s economy. Cuts in harvest quotas can have adverse affects on the ability of fishermen to compete with the tourism industry.


  1. McLeod, K. L., and H. M. Leslie., 2009. Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans. Island Press, Washington, DC.

  2. Yaffee, S. L. 1999. Three Faces of Ecosystem Management. Conservation Biology 13:713-725.

  3. FAO, Rome (2009) A Fishery Manager's Guidebook Eds. Cochrane KL and Garcia S. ISBN 9781405170857.

  4. FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries

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