Advancing an Ecosystem Approach in the Gulf of Maine

Peopling the Marine Ecosystem

Bonnie J. McCay


Abstract.—The study of ecosystems, such as the Gulf of Maine, and efforts to realize the objectives of ecosystem-based management are proceeding apace, but the so-called “human dimensions” need greater attention, rhetoric notwithstanding. They are mainly limited to representations of the anthropogenic effects of people and their artifacts and activities, such as overfishing, pollution, or drilling for oil. The relevant ecosystem has inputs from people but does not include them. As in standard fisheries management, the people are relegated to a single indicator, “F,” fishing mortality, and perhaps, if we push it a bit, in “E” for effort, as in CPUE (catch per unit effort). Making it ecosystem-based adds small “e” to equations, or elaborates on matters such as predation, competition, sea surface temperatures, but does no more for the people involved. We tend to keep people out of the “ecosystem,” despite much rhetoric to the contrary. If we want to take this seriously, we need to address not only the above notion of anthropogenic influences on a nonhuman ecosystem, but also “social and economic impact” and related analyses, and recent efforts at understanding “coupled natural and human systems.” Throughout, we should not lose sight of the critical roles of people as actors—in tragedies, comedies, and other dramas of the commons— and as chroniclers and witnesses.