Ecosystem based fisheries management (EBFM) is a specific application of ecosystem-based management (EBM) whereby, abiotic, biotic, and socio-economic interactions among components of the ecosystem are taken into account when developing a management plan for fisheries. While there exists a federal demand for the implementation of EBFM, few studies have attempted to examine the working definition of EBFM and its implementation at the state level. Eight key components of EBFM were defined in this study: (i) protecting/enhancing habitat, (ii) incorporating geographically specific management needs, (iii) adapting to changing biological and social conditions, (iv) engaging stakeholders, (v) considering the interactions between the physical, biological, and human factors that affect the health of fisheries, (vi) considering the social, economic, and cultural impacts on industries and communities that depend on fisheries, (vii) accounting for uncertainty in ecosystems, (viii) including flexibility in management strategies. The primary objectives of this study are: (1) to understand the definition of EBFM by state managers; (2) to identify potential barriers in implementing EBFM; (3) to rank the importance of inclusion and implementation of our eight-part component definition of EBFM.
Interviews were conducted via phone surveys. The survey was composed of Likert scale questions and open-ended questions. Both the Likert scale questions and open-ended questions focused on identifying a common core definition of EBFM, if one existed, and ranking the importance and implementation of EBFM.
State managers ranked inclusion of (i) protecting/enhancing habitat highest overall and ranked (vi) considering the social, economic, and cultural impacts on industries and communities that depend on fisheries lowest overall. The uniformity across inclusion responses indicates that there is a shared core definition of EBFM among state managers. Managers stated that (iv) engaging stakeholders ranked was implemented the most and (vii) accounting for uncertainty in ecosystems was least implemented. Survey participants also identified a broad range of barriers corresponding to each individual component of EBFM. Overall, the New England region most frequently cited stakeholder engagement as a barrier while the Mid-Atlantic region most frequently stated regulatory stipulations as a barrier. The results of this analysis have significant potential to inform state managers where potential energetic and fiscal resource should be allocated in the quest for successful implementation of EBFM at the state level in the North-East United States.