Ecosystem approaches to fishery management through essential fish habitat
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act recognizes that fish stocks depend on healthy ecosystems and requires that fishery managers expand their management regimes to include the very basis of healthy fisheries—the habitat itself. The 1996 amendments to this primary United States marine fishery-management law include a new mandate to identify habitats essential to managed living marine resources and to take steps to ensure that those habitats remain healthy and can support sustainable fisheries. Until now, the legislative mandate for protecting habitat for marine and anadromous stocks came through statutes not specifically focused on the needs of commercial and recreational fish species. Now, there is explicit linkage between fishery-management programs, traditionally designed to manage the harvesting activity itself, and efforts to ensure that fishing and nonfishing activities do not undermine the productivity of the stocks. This emphasis on habitat health and productivity brings a broader ecosystem perspective to traditional fishery management. The insertion of essential fish habitat (EFH) provisions into fisheries management has been an enormous undertaking. The agency and the regional fishery management councils, working with other partners, completed the first stage of the process within very tight statutory deadlines. The councils have made use of all of the tools provided them under the act and the EFH regulations, such as designating habitat areas of particular concern (EFH-HAPCs), recommending fishing restrictions within special areas, defining priority research and information needs, and documenting threats and conservation measures appropriate for federal actions that may adversely affect EFH. This effort has entailed a great deal of scientific as well as policy analysis. We are currently implementing the federal consultation process to address threats to fish habitat in a consistent and timely manner. This new habitat thrust will align fishery managers and scientists with new allies in the habitat arena, increasing benefits to marine resource-management programs and fishery management. As suggested by the theme of this issue, an understanding and consideration of marine reserves and other special-area management concepts can benefit federal fishery management. This article gives an overview of how the fishery-management councils are fulfilling the essential fish habitat mandate by using a broader ecosystem approach to conservation that considers the ecological role of managed species, analyzes species' habitat needs from state waters to the high seas, and examines shifts in population health and sustainability over the course of decades.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 2000-05-01
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