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Mapping Fisheries Management

June 12, 2012
A map of Chesapeake Bay from the wall of the Virginia Sea Grant marine policy interns' office. ©Janet Krenn/VASG

A map of Chesapeake Bay from the wall of the Virginia Sea Grant marine policy interns' office. ©Janet Krenn/VASG

Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin
Volume 44, Number 2, Summer 2012
By Janet Krenn

When Troy Hartley uses words like map, connector, and bridge, he isn’t talking about a road trip. He’s referring to his research results, diagrams in which lines originate from one point, meet at another, and then radiate out again. To a novice, these illustrations look like abstract line art, but in the right hands, they can help improve the way fisheries are managed.

This kind of research, called network analysis, involves surveying people involved in a community or a management decision to learn who talks to whom and why. This information can act as a guide to more efficient communications and information sharing across the network.

Network analysis shows how governments and stakeholders coordinate and implement programs, and Hartley, Virginia Sea Grant Director, is one of the few researchers applying this method to fisheries management. He’s used it to advise the managers of the multimillion dollar New England Atlantic herring fishery and counsel managers about the myriad regulatory networks in the Chesapeake Bay.

Now Hartley is taking his rare skills on the road. In March, he was appointed to the National Research Council (NRC) Committee on Evaluating the Effectiveness of Stock Rebuilding Plans. The committee was formed at the request of Congress to better understand how well efforts to increase fish populations—called stock rebuilding—have worked across the country. The 11 biologists, ecologists, mathematicians, and social scientists on the committee will evaluate the progress of stock rebuilding measures and assess the biological, social, and economic factors underlying the success or failure of stock rebuilding plans.

Hartley’s role on the NRC Committee is to focus on the socioeconomic factors. After all, he says, “Fisheries management regulates the behavior of people—not fish.”

Keys to the Herring Network
In some cases, the number of people affected by fisheries management can far outnumber those doing the fishing. This is the case in the New England herring fishery.

Herring is a small oily fish found on both sides of the Atlantic. Along the U.S. coast, it ranges from North Carolina to Canada. Herring is pickled and canned for human consumption and sold as bait for lucrative lobster, crab, and tuna fisheries. And it is worth big money. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), more than 145 million pounds of herring, worth some $19 million, were landed in the U.S. in 2010 alone.

The fishery is managed by rotating fishing areas, opening an area to the approximately 100 U.S. vessels and then closing it when the total catch weight reaches a pre-set limit. According to Lori Steele, Herring Plan Coordinator for the New England Fisheries Management Council, the fishery is in pretty good shape and isn’t showing signs of being overfished, but there are still challenges.

“The management becomes complicated because there are so many stakeholders whose businesses rely on the fishery,” she says. For example, whale-watching businesses need herring as a food source for the whales, and fishermen target tuna or striped bass, two species that also eat herring.

“Every stakeholder opinion is weighed by the Council,” explains Steele, “and we need to ensure all of the opinions and input are included in the process.”

When Hartley conducted his network analysis of New England’s herring fishery in 2006 and 2007, he found that many groups were involved, but these groups weren’t talking to each other. Instead, communications were getting passed through only a few people.
Having so few individuals connecting all of the stakeholders can be risky. In a network like this, some groups might not have access to information, and the network can be vulnerable to interruption when key employees change jobs or retire.

What’s more, when groups don’t share information directly with each other, it is harder for them to solve problems together.  As Hartley points out, “A basic level of mutual understanding is often an essential prerequisite to reach common ground or discover innovative solutions.”

Hartley’s research indicates that the herring fishery relies heavily on Steele and a few others to hold the network together, and that official job descriptions do not always provide clues to who is most important in network function. His work also identifies opportunities to improve this function. For example, a strategically placed communication link—a weekly or monthly meeting, phone call, or email—could open up channels for groups to interact in new ways.

Managing an Ecosystem
Managing one fish species is complicated enough. Now try creating a management plan that takes into account multiple fish species, environmental conditions, human activities, and local, state, and federal regulations and policies. The Chesapeake Bay Program is committed to this holistic approach, called ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM).

For EBFM to work, managers need a lot of scientific information on how the ecosystem and its components function for fish.  The data are there, says NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office Director Peyton Robertson; “We have probably the most robust set of science anywhere in the world.”

But EBFM also requires plenty of interaction. Managers not only have to deal with more information about fish, but they also need to work with more individuals from across all the affected fisheries and with local and state agencies addressing habitat and water quality issues. In total, the Chesapeake Bay network includes more than 400 local, state, and federal organizations and five fisheries across two states. Says Robertson, “It sets up a fairly tall hill to climb.”

To start scaling that hill, Robertson enlisted the help of Hartley and Maryland Sea Grant’s then-Director, Jon Kramer, to learn more about how to effectively coordinate EBFM in the region. While Kramer identified needs for scientific research, Hartley and a team of policy interns began mapping the way different groups across local, state, regional, and federal levels do—or do not—interact and communicate.

What Hartley and interns Jennifer Reichle and Jessica Eckerlin found was that scientists interact closely with management, but ties between local, state, and federal agencies are much weaker.
“The divide is pretty big sometimes,” says Hartley. “We saw a lack of connection between levels of government. Current working relationships across local, state, regional, and federal boundaries are insufficient to achieve the Bay Program’s challenging implementation goals.”

This insight was useful for Robertson in planning the membership of his executive committee, which includes fishery managers and a broader group of stakeholders.

It’s not just science that leads to effective management, Robertson emphasizes. “It’s critical that we understand the relationships between people and the role they play in governance, and [Hartley’s] work helps us get there.”

A National Committee
Working to understand the relationships between people and management is exactly what Hartley will be doing on the NRC Committee on Evaluating the Effectiveness of Stock Rebuilding Plans.

For Hartley, working on an NRC committee is an honor. Not many researchers have the opportunity to contribute so directly to their government’s understanding of science, and the NRC study could influence future changes to the federal fisheries law. At the same time, Hartley points out, the committee is a natural extension of Virginia Sea Grant’s research and advisory roles in the Commonwealth.

“Sea Grant is recognized as a source of cutting-edge science,” says Hartley. “We also have our boots on the ground working with communities to achieve their environmental, economic, and community goals. We understand the human dimensions of making management actions effective.”

Although fish populations are the ultimate measure of stock rebuilding success, the NRC committee will also look at the social and economic outcomes and preconditions of rebuilding strategies. In fact, the Committee’s objectives include evaluating these human factors and understanding the interconnection of biological and social policy objectives in fish rebuilding plans.

“This tight coupling of biological and socioeconomic policy remains inherent in today’s fisheries management,” says Hartley, “but our capacity to understand the human dimensions and to integrate that knowledge into our understanding of fisheries management is still evolving.”

The inclusion of social scientists like Hartley in fisheries management discussions reflects a growing appreciation of how important that connection between stock rebuilding efforts and socioeconomic factors can be. “Fishery and social policy objectives are connected,” Hartley says, “and the human consequences of management decisions cannot be ignored. Once a stock is rebuilt, society needs people around to fish it.”