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A Meta-analysis on the Effectiveness of Offsetting Strategies to Address Harm to Freshwater Fishes

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Offsetting aims to compensate for negative impacts due to authorized anthropogenic impacts associated with development. While anchored into legislation, residual or chronic impacts can occur after offset establishment. Advice and best practice on how to approach these impacts is rare. To address this, we reviewed 30 projects based on a systematic review and meta-analysis in freshwater ecosystems dealing with residual or long-term negative impacts to provide application advice for: habitat creation, habitat restoration, and biological and chemical manipulation. Project information was obtained through Boolean search terms and web-scraping. Habitat creation projects had a pooled effect size of 0.8 and offsetting ratios of 1:5 with high biomass increases of >140% compared to pre-establishment, associated with them. Habitat restoration projects targeted a wide range of species and communities with a pooled effect size of 0.66, offset ratios ranging from 1:1.2 to 1:4.6, and biomass increases generally > 100% compared to pre-restoration. Biological manipulation had the lowest effect size (0.51) with stocking being highly variable both in terms of biomass benefits and project outcomes pointing towards being mostly applicable in cases of direct fish harm not related to habitat aspects. We conclude that (1) all three assessed approaches have a potential application use for offsetting residual or chronic harm with approach-specific caveats. (2) Implementation costs differ across offset methods, with connectivity and side-channel projects having the lowest biomass gain per area costs (3) Time to first benefits required one to two years with time lags needing to be accounted for in the implementation and monitoring process.

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Research data and sources can be found in the supplemental material and under 10.6084/m9.figshare.19146518 or through contacting the authors directly.


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Funding for this project was provided by Mitacs Cluster Accelerate (RES0027784) and Converge (RES0021639) grants. Industry support was provided by Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL).

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Correspondence to Sebastian Theis.

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Theis, S., Koops, M.A. & Poesch, M.S. A Meta-analysis on the Effectiveness of Offsetting Strategies to Address Harm to Freshwater Fishes. Environmental Management 70, 793–807 (2022).

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