Ecological risk assessment and its application to elasmobranch conservation and management

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Ecological risk assessments (ERAs) are employed to quantify and predict the vulnerability of a particular species, stock or population to a specific stressor, e.g. pollution, harvesting, climate change, by‐catch. Data generated from ERAs are used to identify and prioritize species for implementation of effective conservation and management strategies. At this time, ERAs are of particular importance to elasmobranchs, given the ecological importance and documented global population declines of some elasmobranch species. Here, ERAs as a tool for elasmobranch conservation and management are reviewed and a theoretical roadmap provided for future studies. To achieve these goals, a brief history of ERAs and approaches used within them (in the context of elasmobranchs) are given, and a comprehensive review conducted of all ERA studies associated with elasmobranchs published between 1998 and 2011. The hazards assessed, species evaluated and methodological approaches taken are recorded. Chronological and geographical patterns suggest that this tool has grown in popularity as a commercial fishery management instrument, while also signalling a recent precautionary approach to elasmobranch management in commercial fisheries globally. The analysis demonstrates that the predominant parameters incorporated in previous ERAs are largely based on life‐history characteristics, and sharks have received the majority of attention; batoids (including skates) have received less attention. Recreational fishing and habitat degradation are discussed as hazards which warrant future investigation through ERA. Lastly, suggestions are made for incorporating descriptive ecological data to aid in the continued development and evolution of this management tool as it applies to future elasmobranch conservation.

Document Type: Editorial


Publication date: April 1, 2012

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