Commercial fishing activities, primarily bottom trawling, have severely damaged vulnerable sea-floor communities such as undersea coral gardens and the summits of seamounts. Recreational fishing can also affect ecosystems adversely. The United States Ocean Commission (2004) recommended
that fisheries be managed to protect marine ecosystems and their functions. The eight regional fisheries management councils in the United States under the jurisdiction of the National Marine Fisheries Service lack a sufficiently detailed understanding of ecosystem structure and function and
of the target stocks and managed fisheries for making decisions that protect the stocks and ecosystems while allowing fisheries to proceed. Because the development of such detailed understanding is time consuming, we suggest that conceptual diagrammatic models can be used to express the generally
known structures and functions of ecosystems so that precautionary management decisions can be made while more sophisticated models of marine ecosystems and fisheries are developed. This will protect resources while knowledge is gathered to enable exploitation that increases rather than degrades
the overall value of the services provided by the ecosystem. Here we provide examples of such conceptual diagrammatic models for three US deep-sea coral ecosystems: (1) Aleutian gorgonian garden ecosystems, (2) Corner Rise Seamount, NW Atlantic, and (3) Oculina coral ecosystem off the
Florida Atlantic coast, all of which have been established as Essential Fish Habitat and Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (EFH-HAPC). We also suggest how such models might be used by managers, scientists, and stakeholders.
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