Managing the Impacts of Human Activities on Fish Habitat: The Governance, Practices, and Science

Using Fishery Management Mandates to Conserve Marine Fish Habitat in the United States

Thomas E. Bigford


Abstract.—Based on increased concern for habitat degradation, destructive fishing practices, and cumulative impacts across regional ecosystems, marine fish habitat conservation has received unprecedented attention in the past 15 years. Significant progress in science, management, and policy reflect growing acceptance that habitat conservation is an essential ingredient for successful management at the regional or ecosystem levels. Economic realities from the recent global downturn are dampening an immediate infusion of new monies, but the cumulative benefits of these efforts promise to bear fruit. In U.S. waters, our ocean’s health and society’s expectations appear to be nearing their respective tipping points on marine environmental and ecological issues such as declining population vitality and worsening economic yields. This new paradigm calls for a more inclusive approach to fisheries management, including habitat protection and restoration in regional approaches to resource management. Fisheries are likely to be managed in a larger context with other ocean uses and with an eye toward a broader sweep of ecosystem services. The next era of resource management could be based less on traditional fishery management tactics and more on new expectations related to broad ocean management. The result could be healthier oceans yielding greater returns across the larger range of societal needs.