Scientifically Defensible Fish Conservation and Recovery Plans: Addressing Diffuse Threats and Developing Rigorous Adaptive Management Plans

Photo credit: BLM

Photo credit: BLM

Kathleen G. Maas-Hebner, Carl Schreck, Robert M. Hughes, J. Alan Yeakley, Nancy Molina

We discuss the importance of addressing diffuse threats to long-term species and habitat viability in fish conservation and recovery planning. In the Pacific Northwest, USA, salmonid management plans have typically focused on degraded freshwater habitat, dams, fish passage, harvest rates, and hatchery releases. However, such plans inadequately address threats related to human population and economic growth, intra- and interspecific competition, and changes in climate, ocean, and estuarine conditions. Based on reviews conducted on eight conservation and/or recovery plans, we found that though threats resulting from such changes are difficult to model and/or predict, they are especially important for wide-ranging diadromous species. Adaptive management is also a critical but often inadequately constructed component of those plans. Adaptive management should be designed to respond to evolving knowledge about the fish and their supporting ecosystems; if done properly, it should help improve conservation efforts by decreasing uncertainty regarding known and diffuse threats. We conclude with a general call for environmental managers and planners to reinvigorate the adaptive management process in future management plans, including more explicitly identifying critical uncertainties, implementing monitoring programs to reduce those uncertainties, and explicitly stating what management actions will occur when pre-identified trigger points are reached.

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