Ecosystem-based management (EBM) is generally seen as the means to achieve sustainable development. There has been a decade or so of discussions on the need to incorporate the ecosystem into the management of human activities to ensure sustainability of goods and services for future generations (Christensen et al., 1996). Initially, EBM recognized the interconnectedness between human societies and ecosystems. Over time, however, the approach also considered the importance of a sound understanding of ecosystem components and processes. To deal with uncertainty, the precautionary approach and adaptive management principles were added to the concepts and approaches to guide management decisions (McLeod et al., 2005). Given the complexity and the variety of human activities within the ecosystem, integrated management processes were deemed necessary as a means to engage jurisdictions and stakeholders (UNESCO, 2006).
In support of these new concepts and management processes, various ecosystem research initiatives focused attention on enhancing understanding of ecosystem components and processes and their interactions. Biodiversity and ecological criteria were developed (UNESCO, 2009; DFO, 2004a, 2005a, 2006, 2009a; Wilkinson et al., 2009), and extensive work on the modelling of ecological processes and human interactions was undertaken (ICES, 2007, 2008, 2009). In parallel, integrated planning and management processes spawned the need for indicators (DEDUCE, 2002; ICES, 2008, 2009). In refining management goals, and as a means to guide reporting on the state of ecosystem health, objectives were set from both ecological and socio-economic perspectives (OSPAR, 2007; DFO, 2007; US CEQ, 2009; ICES, 2010a). Among the various objective-setting initiatives, the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (EU, 2008) descriptors of good environmental status (GES; EU, 2010) can be interpreted as a comprehensive list of marine ecosystem-based management objectives that combine ecosystem conservation with the need to sustain ecosystem goods and services, and that are primarily applicable on regional geographic scales. Similarly, the recognition of the inherent weaknesses of project-scale environmental effect assessments resulted in the development of strategic environmental assessment approaches that broaden the geographic scale and scope of the impact assessment process to include the ecosystem context and all relevant human activities in the assessed area (EU, 2001; Canada, 2010). EBM concepts and approaches have been incorporated in both top–down integrated management and bottom–up environmental assessment initiatives.