, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 9-29
Date: 29 May 2009

Issues of ecosystem-based management of forage fisheries in “open” non-stationary ecosystems: the example of the sardine fishery in the Gulf of California

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Abstract

The Gulf of California system presents major challenges to the still developing frameworks for ecosystem-based management (EBM). It is very much an open system and is intermittently subject to important influxes of migratory visitors, including large pelagic predatory fishes and small pelagic forage fishes. These migrants include the more tropical species from the coastal ecosystems to the south and perhaps subtropical sardines and anchovies from the California Current upwelling system. In addition to the multi-annual ENSO-scale and what may seem to be rather erratic episodes of major population incursions, the Gulf presents nonstationary, transient aspects on a variety of longer time scales. Moreover, the removal of top predators by commercial and sport fisheries has introduced trends that must be affecting the entire ecosystem, and certainly the forage fishes that are their major prey base. In addition to size limits, fishing seasons, area closures and license limitations, the fishery is managed by an ad hoc adaptive management system, in which the fishing season can be shortened or additional areas closed to fishing if pre-season exploratory fishing surveys indicate a shortage of small pelagic fishes on the fishing grounds. Whether this system is likely to be sustainable in the long term is difficult to determine, given the potential for rapid changes in the system because of environmental changes and/or feedbacks within the food web. Thus it appears that innovative management frameworks, among other things utilizing the comparative method, may be required in order to determine defensible tradeoffs between precaution and resource utilization.