The complexity of marine ecosystems has long presented a challenge to fisheries management in coastal communities. Recognizing that many fish stocks are on the decline, managers and researchers alike have identified the importance of evaluating the mechanisms that link environmental, ecological, and human systems together. Identifying how these systems interact with each other will allow for a more precise understanding of their collective impact on fish populations. The Gulf of Alaska Dynamics (GoA) working group set out to produce a comprehensive analysis that attempts to model the varied effects of these complex interactions on focal groundfish species of coastal Alaskan communities. Their publication in the ICES Journal of Marine Science catalogues the multitude of natural and anthropologic complexities that impact fisheries stock.
The researchers evaluated an alternative to the traditional single-species management approach by expanding the scope of a fishery beyond the factors that directly affect target fish populations to include a multitude of indirect drivers. This involved a laborious synthesis of existing environmental, ecological, and sociological information that was valuable to identifying the links between these fields and focal species. Environmental factors evaluated in the models included the effects of El Niño and other meteorological events, while ecological factors included a vast surface of predator-prey interactions. Human dimensions were addressed by identifying how various economic and social factors altered fishing practices, and the complete model drew connections between all three systems and their overall impact on the target fishery. The GoA working group began by creating three different models for three important Alaskan groundfish fisheries, then merged the models in order to simulate the system-wide impacts of diverse stressors on the populations of the three species. Similar integrated approaches to fisheries management are being evaluated internationally, and incorporating the human dimensions of these ecosystems is critical to maintaining sustainable populations of economically and ecologically important species
Linking ecosystem processes to communities of practice through commercially fished species in the Gulf of Alaska
Zador, S.G., Gaichas, S.K., Kasperski, S., Ward, C.L., Blake, R.E., Ban, N.C., Himes-Cornell, A., Koehn, J.Z., Blasiak, R.
ICES Journal of Marine Science, April 2017, doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsx054