WGVHES aims to determine the relative value of coastal nursery habitats (such as seagrass beds, kelp beds, and rocky bottoms), feeding grounds, and spawning areas for the species of interest to ICES, in coordination with the Working Group on Marine Habitat Mapping (WGMHM).
This will be done by evaluating the available information whereby the quantity and quality of coastal habitats can be linked directly to the population dynamics of a species, establishing quantitative methods for determining how habitats influence population abundance and fishery yield, and producing case studies quantifying habitat value for selected species. Integrating habitat value quantitatively in models is carried out as the basis for ecosystem-based fishery management.
WGVHES's work is important because many exploited marine and estuarine populations have experienced significant reductions in spawning-stock biomass and recruitment. Fishery production of these species is lower than historical levels such that their commercial value has similarly declined. Essential habitats have been degraded in many areas, meaning that they can no longer fulfill nursery, feeding, or reproductive functions; yet their quantitative value at population and ecosystem levels remains largely unknown.
The findings of this group are expected to help improve predictions of fishery yield, age-class strength, and population status for species of commercial and recreational value. They will also help in defining key habitats for conservation and restoration efforts.