ICES Working Group on the value of Coastal Habitats for Exploited Species (WGVHES) seeks to determine the relative value of coastal nursery habitats (e.g. seagrass beds, salt marshes, kelp beds, and rocky bottoms), feeding grounds, and spawning areas for the suite of species of interest to ICES, and in collaboration with the Working Group on Marine Habitat Mapping, by (i) documenting and evaluating the available information whereby the quantity and quality of coastal habitats can be linked directly to the population dynamics of exploited species; (ii) establishing quantitative methods for determining how coastal habitats influence population abundance and fishery yield; and (iii) producing case studies quantifying habitat value in population models for selected fish and invertebrate species.
Integrating habitat value quantitatively in mathematical, statistical or empirical models is an activity carried out by WGVHES in order to establish the foundation for ecosystem-based fishery management.
WGVHES's goals are important because many exploited marine and estuarine populations have experienced significant reductions in spawning-stock biomass and recruitment. Concurrently, fishery production of these species is lower than historical levels such that their commercial value has similarly declined. Moreover, essential habitats such as nursery and foraging grounds have been degraded in many areas in such a way that these critical habitats are no longer adequate to fulfill nursery, feeding, or reproductive functions, yet their quantitative value at the population and ecosystem levels remains largely unknown. Consequently, the findings of this working group are expected to help improve predictions of fishery yield, age-class strength, and long-term population status for species of commercial and recreational value and to define key habitats for conservation and restoration efforts.