Monday, January 09, 2006

Ecosystem approach to Fisheries Management

This is what the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization document prescribes for the nation's fisheries at this point. Who knows how that document will evolve in the future. But I wondered if this approach isn't tied to the efforts of one Larry Merculieff, an Aleut leader from St. Paul Island, in the middle of the Bering Sea.

Computers can now spit out stuff on the ecosystem that few people see, like color bathymetric charts, this one of the Aleutians.

Larry had come to Alaska State government as an appointee of Gov. Steve Cowper. He was the Commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Economic Development when I was appointed to do a project in infrastructure development for the Department. Larry had seen some massive die-offs of sea birds around the Pribilof Islands and thought fisheries management should take everything into account. This Reauthorization document could be his vindication.

They like their birds out there. They have millions of them, and when they start dying, they want to know why. And if whatever is causing it will affect the fisheries in the area. Back in the early '90s though, the uniform interest in an ecosystem approach was characterized by Clark Gable's famous line, "Quite frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

That was the first and last I heard of the ecosystem approach to fisheries management until this reauthorization work on the MSFMC Act. A recent article said: "The wave of the future is something far more sophisticated: so-called “ecosystems” management, with all the different species managed together, and other marine life also considered. The Magnuson Act reauthorization, as currently drafted, would require that new approach, and the New England council supports it, Fiorelli said."

I'm sure a lot transpired in these regards since I worked under Larry in the early '90s. That the issue never did go away, and maybe he was the "lone ranger" on the issue, but probably not. I saw other people looking at the issue too at the time.

On a trip to the Pribilofs for the State, I poked around but didn't get a feel for the ecosystem since it was winter. I did get a feeling that these people weren't about to give up on living on those islands. And I got a feel for how big the rocks were that made up the new breakwaters, as I strolled around in the grottos between the elephant sized boulders.

I get a headache just thinking about how an ecosystems approach to fisheries management might work. I saw a diagram once of the the connections between the life forms in the Bering Sea. Dozens of species, each connected to numerous of the others. The Fishery Management Councils will no longer be made up of talking heads, but talking computers. The council members seem to have their hands full anyway, deciding who to make points with by deeding the resources away.


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