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Governance of Marine Ecosystem-Based Management: A Comparative Analysis

As more marine species approach extinction, ecosystem-based management, which governs ecosystems according to ecological rather than political boundaries, may offer the best approach to marine conservation. This is the final event in ECSP's "Fishing for a Secure Future" series.

Date & Time

Sep. 29, 2008
12:00pm – 2:00pm

Governance of Marine Ecosystem-Based Management: A Comparative Analysis

"Frequently, we forget that environmental management is all about institutions and governance, and the decisions and trade-offs that we make," said the University of Washington's Patrick Christie at "Governance of Marine Ecosystem-Based Management: A Comparative Analysis," a September 29, 2008, event sponsored by the Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP). "And of course they need to be informed by ecological principles as well. But when it comes down to it, you're managing individuals, institutions, [and] budgets." Christie believes that as more and more marine species move dangerously close to extinction—whether from overfishing, pollution, or habitat destruction—ecosystem-based management (EBM), which governs ecosystems according to ecological rather than political boundaries, offers the best approach to marine conservation. This meeting was the final event in ECSP's "Fishing for a Secure Future" series.

Decentralizing EBM

For Alan White of The Nature Conservancy, the Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP), initiated by the U.S. Agency for International Development in 1996, exemplifies EBM's success. Working in 111 coastal municipalities in the Philippines and covering approximately one-sixth of the country's coastline, CRMP helped managers of municipal fisheries and marine protected areas (MPAs) collaborate with coastal law enforcement agencies to restore fish populations. EBM can be achieved, argued White, by allowing local municipalities to control simple regulatory schemes—so long as they are simultaneously sharing information with larger-scale networks. However, "the local governments have to be the ones to pay for this; they can't be dependent on foreign donor projects or even large NGOs. It's got to be sustained through the mechanism of governance and governments in those areas," he said.

The Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) regional action plan, drafted by the CTI's six members—Indonesia, East Timor, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands—is designed to make ecosystem-based fisheries management "more mainstream in the region," said White. Among the many factors decreasing fish populations in the region are illegal and commercial fishing, chemical poisoning, industrial pollution, coral bleaching, typhoons, and aquarium fishing, he noted, and to effectively address these problems, local municipalities and larger-scale actors must coordinate their strategies.

Curbing Illegal Fishing in the Philippines

Tetra Tech's Nygiel Armada explained that the Fisheries Improved for Sustainable Harvests (FISH) Project in the Philippines' Danajon Bank ecosystem demonstrates how improving control mechanisms can combat illegal and commercial fishers' activities. The FISH Project focuses on improving control mechanisms, including the network of MPAs; species-specific management; gear restrictions; size limits on fish; registration and licensing; and zoning of fishing and water activities. Strengthening these mechanisms and combining them with cross-cutting initiatives such as information, education, and communication campaigns; better policies; and collaboration with law enforcement agencies led to more fish.

"Governance is only as strong as your weakest link," emphasized Armada. The weakest municipalities—those that allowed illegal fishing practices to continue and failed to enforce control mechanisms—weakened overall gains. To sustain fish stocks and improve governance, all localities must work together to enforce control mechanisms.

Marine Governance, Large and Small

"As scale increases, and complexity increases, and control and potential for coordination become less feasible, there's really [a] need to pay increasing attention to the context within which governance is taking place," maintained Robin Mahon of the University of the West Indies, who studies the Caribbean large marine ecosystem. As Mahon argued, "policy cycles at all levels are important because different types of decisions take place at each level."

By Will Rogers and edited by Rachel Weisshaar.


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