Fisheries experts from around the region are at the University of Maine at Machias for a two-day conference on what could be the next wave of fisheries regulation. It's called ecosystem-based fisheries management, and it takes a different approach.
Traditional fisheries management focuses on one species one at a time – with regulators setting separate harvest rules for individual stocks, such as herring or lobster. Ecosystem-based management takes a more holistic approach, modeling the connected and complex interactions among species, their environment, fishermen and coastal communities in a set geographic area.
Paul Anderson, director of Stonington’s Maine Center for Coastal Studies, says the field has been developing for decades as an academic endeavor. Now, he says, other stakeholders are joining in.
“We’re going to take that off the shelf and really try to implement something new, and see if we can really change how we collect the science, how we blend local information with hard science and see if we get better questions and even better answers,” he says.
Anderson and others say that major changes to the way fisheries are managed are years away. But John Hare, a top federal scientist at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, says some of the principles of ecosystem-based management are finding their way into current regulatory decisions.
Last week in Portland, for instance, federal regulators set new quotas for the herring fishery. But for the first time, as part of that review, they took into account not just the needs of herring and fishermen but also other species that eat herring.
“Whales and puffins and bluefin tuna and groundfish,” Hare says. “The idea was to use what science we have now and come up with a management strategy which will give the population the most resilience for fishing and for serving as forage for these other species.”
Participants at the conference include scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the state Department of Marine Resources, Maine-based scientific institutes and non-governmental organizations, fishermen and students. As part of the effort, they are forming a new group, the Eastern Maine Coastal Current Collaborative, to design a regional ecosystem management plan.