Advancing an Ecosystem Approach in the Gulf of Maine

Ecosystem Services in the Gulf of Maine

Stephen S. Hale and Maxine Westhead


Abstract.—The primary goal of ecosystem-based management (EBM) is to sustain the long-term capacity of the natural world to provide ecosystem services. A technical workshop was held on October 5, 2009 at the 2009 Gulf of Maine Symposium, with the objective of moving toward identifying, mapping, quantifying, and valuing ecosystem services in the Gulf of Maine. Ecosystem services are the benefits humans derive from ecosystems—the things we need and care about that we get from nature. Making the benefits of biodiversity and ecosystem services more apparent to environmental managers and society at large is necessary to pave the way for more efficient policy and management. Ecosystem services can provide a framework for assessing and resolving trade-offs among potentially conflicting human activities. Many of the scientific and technical elements necessary to move forward with ecosystem services approaches and EBM in the Gulf of Maine are already in place and have been applied in other areas. Currently, what is lacking is a policy and regulatory framework. Outstanding research questions include a more complete understanding of all ecosystem services, how they can be valued, and how the links within and among social-ecological systems influence their delivery. To implement ecosystem services and EBM in the Gulf of Maine, we need a clear vision, institutions with clear mandates, EBM science infrastructure, and integrative and interdisciplinary partnerships. Infrastructure for United States–Canada science coordination is in place through the Gulf of Maine Council and RARGOM (the Regional Association for Research on the Gulf of Maine). However, management issues are more difficult because we have bilateral agreements only on fish stock management, and we need formal agreements to work together on broader ecosystem elements.