NOAA’s Efforts for Ecosystem Management

McFadden, K. W. and Barnes, C. (2009). The implementation of an ecosystem approach to management within a federal government agency. Marine Policy 33: 156-163.


The implementation of ecosystem management of marine natural resources is considered a challenge despite the overall consensus that it is essential to understand the complexity of these ecosystems at both ecologic and socioeconomic scales. Katherine McFadden and Cassandra Barnes (2009) report on the endeavors made by the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to execute and modify its strategies to incorporate an active ecosystem approach to management (EAM). Survey responses from nine programs associated with ecosystem science and management within NOAA from eight eco-regions (Northeast US Continental Shelf, Southeast Continental Shelf, Gulf of Mexico, California current, Alaska ecosystem complex, Pacific Islands, Great Lakes, and the Caribbean ecosystem) were analyzed. Initially, NOAA’s efforts began with its participation in the Interagency Ecosystem Management Task Force (IEMTF) in 1993. However, the implementation of EAM presented a significant change in the agency’s method of managing marine resources and its collaboration with other organizations. The United States Ocean Action Plan (USOAP) helped renew NOAA’s efforts for EAM with its integration in the 2004 Strategic Plan.

According to McFadden and Barnes (2009), 66 regional activities were identified, with the Gulf of Mexico contributing the largest number of EAM initiatives followed by the Northeast (although this may be due to specific mandates in these particular areas). Most EAM projects began approximately 7 years ago and vary widely in spatial scales. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) was considered the major organization that had the largest number of EAM-related projects and the greatest portion of NOAA’s 2005 total budget for ecosystem-related research (58%). A statistical analysis showed no particular geographic region as the sole focus of NOAA’s efforts for EAM. Collaborative efforts with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations, and partnerships reached up to 70%, of which most were within other NOAA divisions and programs.

Survey responses were categorized into successful intents of EAM projects that concentrated on “collaborations, multidisciplinary approaches and identifying common priorities”. Partnerships with different organizations and agencies are considered essential to achieve an ample amount of information needed for better management strategies. Incorporating multiple disciplines from several areas of scientific knowledge (e.g., environmental sciences, psychology, and social sciences) are needed to assess needs and concerns that require alternatives/solutions based on an ecosystem approach. Being able to identify common priorities can help minimize the timeliness in recognizing problems and focus efforts on improving commitments between NOAA and local stakeholders.

The authors acknowledge that not all programs associated with EAM projects responded to this study and is not considered an “entirely comprehensive analysis”. However, the results obtained from this survey provided insight on how ecosystem management is perceived by most of the individuals involved in EAM activities and the extent of NOAA’s progress in executing this type of management as a large multidisciplinary agency.

To read more on this week’s Featured Article, check out our CRA Publication Database.

Dr. Ken Sherman (Director, U.S. Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) Program) – What criteria is used to name a LME?

CRA’s Comment

NOAA’s attitude towards marine resource management has been gradually changing in order to implement an ecosystem approach. However, integrating different forms of science, encouraging collaborations, lack of financial funds, and the need for a “big picture” view have been identified as being major challenges in improving the cooperation and understanding of EAM within NOAA (Barnes and McFadden, 2008)[1]. Interestingly, one of the strategies considered for a successful EAM is establishing collaborations with other organizations, agencies and the local community. CRA’s preliminary assessments of marine resource managers, experts and users in the Caribbean are in agreement for increasing collaborations and partnerships of governmental agencies and local stakeholders (see a detailed report of the scoping session at the 2008 Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute Annual Meeting). We concur entirely with the authors in the sharing of information among partners outside and inside of NOAA, which foments the development of a comprehensive database that can be consistently updated with the latest data (McFadden and Barnes, 2009).

Contributed by J. Seda

NOAA Ecosystems Goal Team

National Coastal Development Center (Ecosystem Observation Program)

Large Marine Ecosystems of the World (Dr. Ken Sherman) –

[1] Barnes, C. and McFadden, K.W. (2008). Marine ecosystem approaches to management: challenges and lessons in the United States. Marine Policy 32: 387-392. (Free full text available here)

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