MSEAS 2024 Jason Link: Operational socio-ecological modelling in a complex world

Managing for sustainable use of the Earth's marine and coastal systems.

The Marine Socio-Ecological Systems Symposium takes place this week, 3–7 June in Yokohama, Japan.
Published: 4 June 2024

​​​​​​​Understanding the human dimensions of social-ecological systems is a key factor in ecosystem-based management (EBM). These complex social-ecological systems offer a challenging new area of research that combines multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary components. Taking place this week, the Marine Socio- Ecological Systems Symposium (MSEAS 2024) will emphasize balanced social, economic, and environmental outcomes as crucial for advancing the blue economy and supporting coastal communities. 

Originally planned for 2020 but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MSEAS 2024 will focus on the integrated assessment of multiple ocean uses across sectors, including: fisheries, renewable energy, coastal development, oil and gas, transport, and the need for conservation, as well as the challenges in including the human dimensions in integrated ecosystem assessments. 

Along with the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES), Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency (FRA), the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, and other MSEAS co-sponsors, ICES has long anticipated this gathering.

“The first MSEAS Symposium was a transformational scientific gathering", notes ICES General Secretary Alan Haynie. “Since that meeting in France in 2016, ICES network has greatly expanded our socio-economic capabilities. In addition to great scientific work, we are providing interdisciplinary advice on how to make the complex trade-offs that managers face as they balance diverse uses of marine resources. The second MSEAS Symposium in Yokohama will bring the world's experts together to share our experiences and help address the challenges ahead."

To highlight the science at MSEAS, we will feature some thoughts from the plenary speakers this week. First up, we have Jason Link, NOAA Fisheries, who opened Session 1: Running the Gamut Gauntlet: Socio-ecological modelling in a complex world.

Operational socio-ecological modelling in a complex world​

Jason Link​, addressed the need for coupled models across multiple disciplines, including economics and related human dimensions to gain attention for work on socio-ecological systems.

Link​ is Senior scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, leading efforts to support development of ecosystem-based management plans and activities throughout the agency. Link has been a champion of ecosystem science and management for resource management agencies in the US and around the world. His talk opened Session 1 Running the Gamut Gauntlet: Socio-ecological modelling in a complex world.​

To truly manage marine ecosystems and all the multiple ocean-uses associated with them, we need to adopt ecosystem-based management (EBM)We also need to ensure that we cover the full range of features in socio-ecological systems (SES) associated with the ocean. To do so, a key means of implementing EBM operationally is to use models, and these need to be coupled models across multiple disciplinesFor it is only when we present economics and related human dimensions do people truly care about and pay attention to our work on these SES

My assumptions are:

  • Everyone in the practice and discipline of managing marine ecosystems and their uses is past the need to justify, define, rationalize, and explain EBM, and generally agrees it is a good idea to do EBM;
  • Everyone holds the same as true for the concept of SES;
  • Everyone understands the value, rationale, benefits and reasoning of using models for EBM applications; and
  • Everyone recognizes that there are many, good, extant modeling tools that are available to use to make EBM operational. 

Yet, despite the growing prevalence of my assumptions, the use of the appropriate models to manage marine ecosystems has not been fully widespread, and certainly are not commonly used when making operational decisionsFurthermore, the applications that simultaneously consider economics and human dimensions are also relatively limited. 

Reflecting on the literature, case studies, and personal experiences, there remain barriers to the operational use of ecosystem models for marine ecosystem-based managementBeyond the usual 5-10 key criteria to make these models more widely acceptable, I submit that that a clearer understanding of what operational use means, both from a scientific/technical perspective and from a regulatory/legal perspective in a decision-support setting would be beneficialI note this as often the statistical determinants for model use can be too constraining for decision-support contexts

The other thing I submit is that an ongoing, dynamic model taxonomy would probably be helpful, namely where the classes of models need to be mapped to particular and salient applications given the many dimensions of modelingThe reason is that all too often the classes and families of model use are applied incorrectly to different problems, and from that we end up in the modeling black hole of “too little data, too little precision, and too much uncertainty” that stimies the use of models for SES when we likely don’t need to fall into such a black hole trap, especially when the regulatory expectations are not requiring the same level of constraint to support decision-making.

I consider a few select case studies that have overcome these impediments and that have also jointly considered economics, human dimensions and other features of SES beyond the more common biogeochemical modeling. 

To avoid falling into the modeling black hole trap and to ultimately implement EBM more operationally, I provide a synthesis of global best practices for modeling SES, derived from similar syntheses and from the human dimension inclusive examples noted above.
None of these practices are earth-shattering nor necessarily novel, but considering them as systematic and logical strategy should help to overcome some of the impediments to operational SES modeling. Doing so will help us better explore scenarios and options, understand cumulative and compound SES responses, address tradeoffs, predict future conditions, and evaluate and mitigate risks for marine SES. 

Instead of concluding with how the stakes are too high, that it is critical that we implement EBM, I rather focus on the amazing opportunities that are emerging to develop new understanding and apply that understanding in very impactful and positive ways.

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MSEAS 2024 run from 3–7 June in Yokohama, Japan. ​For more information, visit the MSEAS Symposium page or follow MSEAS​.​

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 Japanese artist, Daisuke Igarashi (@igadaioshirase), painted the MSEAS logo painting.

​​​Jason Link, NOAA Fisheries, opened Session 1: Running the Gamut Gauntlet: Socio-ecological modelling in a complex world at MSEAS 2024, speaking to participants about operational socio-ecological modelling.​
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MSEAS 2024 Jason Link: Operational socio-ecological modelling in a complex world

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