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Reflecting on the ecosystem approach for the Arctic

Arctic Council conference on ecosystem approach hears lessons learned from efforts of ICES-supported Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance (AORA).
Published: 1 September 2016

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​What can we learn from the experiences of enacting ecosystem-based management (EBM) in other parts of the world? And what specifically is useful in the context of the Arctic? These are examples of questions raised at a recent meeting held in Fairbanks, Alaska, where ICES presented feedback from a January workshop which brought together international experts to investigate EBM and the operation of multiple sectors in the Atlantic Ocean.

Considerations from the AORA-CSA workshop were offered by ICES Ecosystem Approach Coordinator Mark Dickey-Collas, who outlined the ecosystem approach before recounting several stories of successes and failures arising from some of the case studies that had been examined.

Gathering expertise

'The Ecosystem Approach to Management: Status of Implementation in the Arctic', co-convened by the Arctic Council working group on the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) and the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), was set up to pool expert knowledge and views to assess the current state of application of the approach in the Arctic and its eighteen Large Marine Ecosystems. As well as deciding on priorities for future collaboration, the meeting was also a platform for hearing instances where the ecosystem approach has previously been used.

Taking positives

One of these, as described by Dickey-Collas, was the case of the Barents Sea Management Plan​. Covering 1.4 million square kilometres of Norwegian marine waters and the fishery protection zone around the Svalbard archipelago, this strategy was initiated in 2002 as a way of addressing conflicts between ministries supporting fisheries, oil, and conservation and the respective objectives of these sectors. Originally presented by Erik Olsen of the Institute Marine Research in Bergen, Norway at the January AORA-CSA meeting, the project was held up as an exemplar of the required knowledge base, integration across the board, stakeholder agreement, and the top-level political leadership making all of these things possible.

However, this was also a cautionary tale. Despite the implementation of EBM, the Barents Sea plan told of hurdles such as a long and costly development period, the openness of society to complex management, and the required willingness for sectors to share power.  

Dickey-Collas also pointed to the case of ecosystem-based management in Australia and an AORA-CSA talk given by David Smith of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), who weighed up his country's oceans policy. Developed in 1998, the policy changed course in 2005, switching its focus from integrated oceans management to conservation and marine protected areas. Whilst progress was generally successful, this example showed that the policy was ahead of the best available science and knowledge at the time. 

Trials and tribulations

Several cases of ecosystem-based management falling short of expectations were also put forward, drawn from case studies and laid down as outputs from AORA-CSA work.

One of these had been made evident by Ignacio Gianelli of the Marine Science Unit at Uruguay's Universidad de la República, who summarized some of the experiences of small-scale fisheries in Uruguay, Brazil, Chile and Ecuador. A common issue here turned out to be that despite the establishment of a solid legal framework, not enough was done in practice to enforce it or work with the stakeholders. Another problem was that the government didn't manage to translate high-level policy goals into incentives for the fishers; in this way, these aims set at the level of government proved to not be a sufficient condition for success.

Also held up as an illustration of less-effective governance was the case of Canada's Large Ocean Management Areas (LOMA). Under the country's Oceans Act, five LOMAs were proposed in areas where there was a need for a management framework. The four-step process for managing these areas – including setting economic, social, cultural, and conservation goals – was built on a solid bedrock of science, a notable feature of the framework. It was also a lesson in decision-making given shifting priorities, as the LOMAs were not accepted by central government at the end of the process, with objectives moving to stay in tune with political changes. 

​Concluding thoughts

Overall the AORA-CSA work illustrated that despite missing pieces of the puzzle of scientific knowledge, governance and legal framework issues – such as in the South America example – represented the main obstacle in bringing in ecosystem-based management. Alongside this point, Dickey-Collas also outlined some options for progress, including: acknowledging ownership between sectors, the emphasis on trade-offs and not optimisation of any one activity or industry, and the use of whatever governance mandate currently exists. All of these are potentially useful insights when looking at ecosystem-based management in the Arctic.

Elsewhere at the PAME conference, other potential inspiration for Arctic management was provided by Hein Rune Skjodal, who informed on ICES work with integrated assessments through the work of two of its expert groups: that operating in the Barents Sea (WGIBAR) and that looking at Norwegian Sea Large Marine Ecosystems (WGINOR).

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Reflecting on the ecosystem approach for the Arctic

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