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Free Content A fisheries play in an ecosystem theater: challenges of managing ecological and social drivers of marine fisheries at multiple spatial scales

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Despite wide geographic distribution, many species function demographically as metapopulations composed of relatively small local stocks. Recent research on those and other species found larval retention is greater, dispersal distances shorter, and demographic connectivity therefore more localized than previously thought. We illustrate these patterns for two western North Atlantic fisheries species, Atlantic cod and American lobsters. Self-organizing spatial patterns also arise in the human social part of the system, but because of biological spatial complexity, geographic boundaries of social organization are unlikely to mirror those of ecological organization. Consequently, no set of management boundaries can perfectly delineate the distribution of organisms within an ecosystem or the social structure that has grown up around them. Reliance on any single scale of management creates perverse incentives—at large scales it encourages roving bandits, at small scales stationary banditry. Nevertheless, at smaller scales, social connectivity is high and feedback about ecological effects of human activity is less ambiguous, permitting rapid, but locally biased, learning. We argue that only strong governance functioning at multiple nested scales can negotiate the spatial restraints on fishing necessary to suppress these perverse incentives. We use an analogy with international trade to illustrate the incentive problems that arise when valuable resources cross ecologically arbitrary political boundaries. We conclude that the need for multiscale governance results from the spatial/temporal heterogeneity of biological systems. Implementing multiscale governance will be difficult so long as fishermen's rights and privileges are large-scale and species specific rather than smaller-scale and responsive to local ecosystem function.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-04-01

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  • The Bulletin of Marine Science is dedicated to the dissemination of high quality research from the world's oceans. All aspects of marine science are treated by the Bulletin of Marine Science, including papers in marine biology, biological oceanography, fisheries, marine affairs, applied marine physics, marine geology and geophysics, marine and atmospheric chemistry, and meteorology and physical oceanography.
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