10 Years of NOAA Integrated Ecosystem Assessment
On May 14-17th, 2019 in Silver Spring, MD around 100 participants including scientists, managers, stakeholders, partners, and NOAA leadership came together to celebrate 10 years of NOAA planning and implementing Integrated Ecosystem Assessments (IEA). Participants at the meeting discussed the progress in using NOAA’s IEA approach to Ecosystem-Based Management to address various issues impacting U.S. marine ecosystems.
10 Years of NOAA Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Addressing Marine Ecosystem Issues
Issues Impacting Marine Ecosystems
Red tide events causing massive fish die-offs, unprecedented sea ice loss, erosion of coastal wetlands, and bleaching of coral reefs not only impact marine ecosystems but also communities, peoples' well-being, local businesses, and more.
These issues impacting ecosystems and people require solutions that consider ecosystems and people. These types of solutions are Ecosystem-Based Management, which considers social, economic, and ecological trade-offs when deciding how to address these issues.
Using NOAA’s IEA Approach to Address Marine Ecosystem Issues
On May 14-17th, 2019 in Silver Spring, MD around 100 participants including scientists, managers, stakeholders, partners, and NOAA leadership came together to celebrate 10 years of NOAA planning and implementing Integrated Ecosystem Assessments (IEA). Participants at the meeting discussed the progress in using NOAA’s IEA approach to Ecosystem-Based Management to address these and many other issues impacting U.S. marine ecosystems.
NOAA’s IEA approach provides scientists and managers a framework to integrate all components of an ecosystem, including humans, into the decision-making process so that managers can balance trade-offs and determine what solutions are more likely to achieve their desired goals.
The goal of the meeting was to enhance awareness of how NOAA’s IEA approach has been used to advance ecosystem science and management and encourage others to get involved.
Dr. David Fluharty, the former chair of NOAA’s external ecosystem task team, explained how a nudge from Congress for NOAA to be more efficient in its ecosystem research led to NOAA first adopting the IEA approach. Dr. Phil Levin reflected on how he and co-authors came to write a paper describing each step of the IEA approach because he saw humans as an integral part of the ecosystem not just causing problems. Dr. Jason Link, NOAA Fisheries Senior Ecosystem Scientist, Dr. Ned Cyr, Director of NOAA Fisheries’s Office of Science and Technology, and Dr. Chris Kelble, former chair of IEA Steering Committee, described the current status, and potential future of the IEA approach and program, showing its broad and growing reach. Speakers emphasized that IEAs are a process to incorporate ecosystem science into decision-making.
Managers and stakeholders from several of the regions where IEAs are being implemented shared their perspectives on how the IEA approach is helping to address issues in their region. Partners included Brian Lezina with the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana, Brandon Muffley with the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, Casey Streeter with the Florida Commercial Watermen’s Conservation, Dr. Gerry Davis with the Pacific Islands Habitat Blueprint partnership, Yvonne deReynier with the NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region, and Mitchell Tartt with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS).
NOAA Leadership from NMFS, NOS, NESDIS, and OAR discussed how the IEA approach is supporting their Line Office’s mission and a vision for the future. Leadership included Nicole LeBoeuf (Acting AA NOS), Gary Matlock (Deputy Director, OAR), Harry Cikanek (Director NESDIS STAR), and Dr. Cisco Werner (Chief Scientist NMFS).
Regions Showcase How the IEA Approach Addresses Issues in Their Region
Each region showcased a few examples of how they are using the IEA approach to work with partners and address marine ecosystem issues in their region.
In Sitka, Alaska NOAA’s IEA approach is being used to identify ecological, social, and economic linkages between Sitka residents and local fisheries. Information from this will be used to assess how stressors could impact the socio-ecological system and will support more sustainable and improved fisheries management.
In California, NOAA’s IEA approach was used in collaboration with California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife and stakeholders to pilot an evaluation of potential fishing impacts on target species, bycatch species, and habitats. This new approach has the potential to be a more efficient, objective, and transparent way to prioritize fishery management efforts in the state of California.
Along the West Florida Shelf, red tide impacts are included in stock assessments but no framework was previously in place to address red tide’s broader impacts on communities. NOAA’s IEA approach provided scientists with the structure to engage communities and address the complex impacts of red tides. NOAA scientists have already identified several easy, inexpensive approaches to help fishermen.
Along the Northeast shelf of the U.S. NOAA’s IEA approach is being used in collaboration with the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and stakeholders to incorporate key ecosystem components into management decisions. In August 2016, the Council approved the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management Guidance Document, which formally adopted consideration of the IEA approach.
Along the west coast of the big island of Hawai‘i, NOAA’s IEA approach is being used to evaluate climate change and human impacts on West Hawai‘i coral reefs and communities’ reliance on those ecosystems. The results were shared with the state of Hawai‘i resource managers to help prioritize the Marine 30x30 management efforts, which aim to “effectively manage 30% of Hawai‘i’s nearshore waters by 2030.”
Read more stories about how regions are using NOAA's IEA approach in this PDF of a booklet handed out at the meeting.
Steps of the IEA Approach Meet End-user Needs, Reflections, and Next Steps
The meeting then discussed how each step of the IEA approach (defining the system and goals, selecting indicators, assessing the ecosystem, analyzing risk, and evaluating management strategies) are being implemented and could be improved in each region.
Dr. Phil Levin, Dr. Dave Fluharty, Dr. Mike Fogarty, Dr. Steve Murawski, and Dr. Frank Schwing are five of the key architects of the current NOAA IEA program and participated in a panel discussion to talk about the ten years since the Levin et al. (2009) paper and to offer recommendations for the future of the program. Each described why the IEA approach has endured stating key themes of it as a flexible process rather than a narrow, specific suite of tools that must be applied; that it was compatible with evolving mandates, agency priorities and governance structures; that there was an emerging generation of marine scientists from multiple disciplines that were ready to take on the challenge of implementing the process; and that there are many potential customers for IEA products if we are able to connect with them.
Details discussed at this meeting will be in an IEA special issues of the Coastal Management Journal to come out in 2020. This special issue will include papers that describe how the IEA approach is supporting NOAA’s mission and how each step of the approach can address various management issues regarding marine ecosystems.
The IEA approach continues to be supported by NOAA and will continue to work closely with stakeholders, managers, and partners to address the complex issues that the U.S. marine ecosystems face.