Challenges, Objectives, and Sustainability: Benthic Community, Habitats and Management Decision-Making
Abstract. This paper first considers why it has been so difficult to make progress on moving fisheries toward ecological sustainability even in the narrow context of the target species. It then reviews the additional challenges that must be confronted when addressing the ecosystem effects of fishing, particularly impacts on benthic communities and habitats. Several impediments to progress are identified, including excess fishing capacity, the differential time courses of costs and benefits in reductions in fishing, myths and preconceptions regarding precaution and the relationship of sustainability to fishery characteristics, and above all, the complexity of the concept of sustainability itself, which has ecological, economic, and social dimensions. It has proven nearly impossible to find management options that do not lose ground on some dimensions in exchange for positive change on others. The paper evaluates the main tools available for reducing the effects of fishing on benthic communities and habitats, with regard to sustainability on all three axes. Four main classes of tools, including changing the cost–benefit accounting to include ecosystem goods and services, marine protected areas, gear modification and fleet substitution, and eco-certification, were all found to incur significant social or economic costs in order to make significant contributions to reducing impacts of fisheries on benthos. Because of the inescapability of trade-offs in decision making, a structured framework is needed for the decision-making process. Objectives-based fisheries management provides such a framework, but including benthos (and other ecosystem properties) in the list of objectives presents real challenges in keeping the list tractably short and the individual objectives usefully explicit. Work done by expert groups on approaches to meet these challenges is summarized. Overall, although there are many ecological questions about fishing effects on the benthos that have not yet been fully answered, the more urgent challenges are to find ways to use the knowledge we do have more effectively in decision making.