how fishing affects habitats and multispecies interactions (predator-prey relationships), the structure of biological communities, and sustainable yields and productivity of fished ecosystems.
NMFS has not ignored these scientific needs. There are notable examples of ecosystem research conducted by NMFS in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska ecosystems and in other regions. NMFS, of course, does not have sole responsibility to conduct science on ecosystems and ecosystem processes in the U.S. EEZ, but it bears a large part of the responsibility for this research because of fishing’s large “footprint” on marine ecosystems. The challenge is worldwide, and the development of multispecies and ecosystem models since the pioneering work of Anderson and Ursin (1977), although considerable, has been notably slow (Sissenwine and Daan, 1991). Nevertheless, the development of multispecies models, some by NMFS scientists, is important and holds promise for future management applications (Hollowed et al., 2000a). So far, the models have not proved to have the predictive power required for most fisheries management. It is uncertain whether NMFS has the financial or personnel resources to respond to the challenge, although ecological and ecosystem issues are the source of a large fraction of the agency’s litigation problem.
Therefore, it is important for NMFS to define its responsibilities for ecosystem research. There are pockets of expertise in NMFS to address ecological issues. For example, the agency has high-quality expertise in systematics, genetics, hydroacoustics, organism behavior, trophic ecology, multispecies modeling, fisheries oceanography, toxicology, and disease. Research conducted outside the agency also could be used to improve much of the ecological and ecosystem science in fisheries management. However, timely research on marine ecosystems to address water quality, habitats, trophic relationships, and threatened and endangered species needs to be coordinated with stock assessments to respond quickly to management needs. A recent NMFS report recommended that the regional FMCs develop fishery ecosystem plans (FEPs) for major fished ecosystems in each council region (NMFS, 1999). Regional FMCs and NMFS are responding to that recommendation, and plans for FEPs are being considered. If adopted, the FEPs will further challenge NMFS to conduct, interpret, and review ecosystem science in support of fisheries management. Part of the challenge will be to coordinate ecosystem science efforts effectively with other federal agencies, state agencies, and academic institutions.
The call for broad ecosystem science would probably be less urgent if fewer fish stocks were overfished. Solutions to the overfishing problem