NC1189: Understanding the Ecological and Social Constraints to Achieving Sustainable Fisheries Resource Policy and Management
Statement of Issues and JustificationFish have influenced and continue to influence human settlement patterns, drive trade, supply critical food sources, offer recreational opportunities and provide a source of income for both inland and coastal human communities in the United States and abroad. For instance, according to statistics from 2006, recreational fishing alone was valued at $125 billion dollars in overall economic output and supported over one million jobs in the U.S. (www.fishhabitat.org). Additionally, as extraordinary sentinels of ecosystem and societal resilience, changes in fish community structure and production dynamics can alert us to unsustainable human activities occurring at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) scientists are extremely well positioned and technically capable to assist policy makers and managers by providing the scientific basis on which to guide the best management decisions for sustainable fisheries resource systems.
The habitats and communities with which fish have co-evolved and adapted have always been in flux, with individuals and populations responding to dynamic changes in climate, prey abundance, predation pressure, and habitat availability. However, the rate at which the human footprint is changing these communities exceeds the rate at which many fish species are able to adapt, leading to significant reductions in fish production and associated benefits. Numerous stakeholder interests, as reflected through the National Fish Habitat Action Plan's (NFHAP) mission statement, for example, can be addressed through the protection, restoration, and enhancement of "...the nation's fish and aquatic communities through partnerships that foster fish habitat conservation and improve the quality of life for the American people," (NFHAP 2010 Annual Update, www.fishhabitat.org). This need is further demonstrated by the introduction of legislation such as the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, which is currently supported by numerous members of Congress and non-governmental associations like the American Sportfishing Association, as well as the recognition of 17 different Fish Habitat Partnerships. These projects highlight the importance of, and support for, cooperation across both political and ecological boundaries. Findings from the multi-state research program proposed here will meet these needs and will be used by state, federal, tribal, and associated non-governmental associations in natural resource management.
Fish are the ultimate integrators of ecosystem changes as their diversity and productivity reflect changes in the structure and function of upland ecosystems, the composition of the airshed, and the nature and dynamics of ground and surface water quantity and quality. In an increasingly globalized world which exposes our fisheries resources and their ecosystems to new threats (e.g., invasive species, diseases, climate change), it is critical to collaborate across geo-political jurisdictional boundaries and disciplinary fields to design innovative and encompassing solutions to local and broad scale challenges to the multitude of diverse waterscapes within the U.S. and in particular, the North Central Region of the AES. To achieve healthy and productive fisheries, we must assure the integrity of our freshwater ecosystems, as well as their connectivity to the landscape and to humans in order to better mediate the impacts associated with the ever-changing environmental conditions. This important link between the quantity and quality of freshwater and sustainable fisheries makes it imperative for our researchers and managers to compare stressors on these resources among the principally agriculturally dominated, upper-midwest landscapes to better devise plans that adaptively manage our fisheries for the benefit of both the ecosystem and society.
To be successful in addressing the challenges faced by fisheries professionals and related policy makers, we need to better communicate how fish are critical components of aquatic ecosystems and how they provide essential goods and services that generate significant social and economic benefits. All stakeholders must perceive fisheries as socially, politically, biologically and economically valuable resources. Strengthened understanding of the ecosystem conditions required by fish and associated biota, coupled with the assessment of the worth of these fisheries ecosystems should motivate society to ensure benefits from sustainable fisheries and associated aquatic ecosystem services. Additionally, the use marine reserves and aquatic protected areas as a management tool to further encourage sustainability and biodiversity should also be evaluated. Enhanced communication among stakeholders throughout the fisheries supply chain is an essential component to achieving the desired stewardship and fisheries valuation at the local and global level. Furthermore, to mitigate impacts related to environmental change on fisheries ecosystems, the dimensions of the fisheries supply chain, its governance, and its resilience need to be incorporated into adaptive decision-making processes. Ignoring any of the above factors will lead us down an irreversible path of destruction and collapse for many fisheries and fish populations. Only through understanding the requirements and benefits of healthy fish, healthy habitats and healthy people will sustainability of fisheries and aquatic ecosystems be ensured and our economic and social prosperity be enhanced.
The overarching goal of this regional research project will be to determine the factors that facilitate or hinder fisheries sustainability in the United States. More specifically, we will aim to address how climate change, invasive species, land use, surface/groundwater dynamics and governance systems affect fish habitat, communities, and production dynamics in order to conserve and restore sustainable and economically viable aquatic ecosystems and fishery resources.
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