Ecosystem Considerations and the Limitations of Ecosystem Models in Fisheries Management:Insights from the Bering Sea

Ecosystem Considerations and the Limitations of Ecosystem Models in Fisheries Management:Insights from the Bering Sea

Andrew W. Trites, Patricia A. Livingston, Marcello C. Vasconcellos, Steven Mackinson, Alan M. Springer, and Daniel Pauly

Ecosystem Considerations and the Limitations of Ecosystem Models in Fisheries Management:Insights from the Bering SeaThis is part of Ecosystem Approaches for Fisheries Management
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Description

Over the past 10 years there has been increasing criticism of management decisions that are based on single-species approaches and a call for the implementation of ecosystem approaches. The major criticism of singlespecies models is that they cannot predict changes in community structure. Unfortunately, our experience in modeling the Bering Sea shows that these same criticisms can also be leveled against ecosystem models.

We employed trophic mass-balance models (Ecopath and Ecosim)to examine some possible explanations for the changes that occurred in the Bering Sea between the 1950s and 1980s. We removed fish and mammals from the modeled system and racked how other components of the ecosystem responded. Our mass balance models indicate that neither whaling nor commercial fisheries were sufficient to explain the 400% increase in pollock biomass and other changes that may have occurred between the two time periods. The simulations further suggest that environmental factors, affecting recruitment or primary production, may be more important in determining the dynamics of the Bering Sea ecosystem than predator-prey interactions alone. These findings illustrate that mass balance models that do not account for the impact of climate variability on yearclass strength cannot provide reliable estimates of trends in marine fish production. However, our models can show how predation and fishing can affect trophic interactions among species. As such, ecosystem models are a useful scientific tool to identify gaps in understanding and data needs, but are unlikely to ever replace single-species models. They may instead complement and provide parameters to single-species models. Ecosystem models such as ours are still in the early stages of development and will become increasingly more important as a management tool as they begin to incorporate spatial and oceanographic/climatic information.

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