Oh What a Tangled Web: Ecosystem-Based Management

The lab activity described here was created by Erin Bardar and Sarah L Hill of TERC for the EarthLabs project.

Summary and Learning Objectives

Students begin this investigation by reading about the basic premises of Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) and how it can be applied to fisheries management Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management (EBFM). In Part B of the investigation, students learn about Integrated Ecosystem Assessments and how they are used as a tool for improving EBFM.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

  • define Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management (EBFM);
  • understand that fisheries management is more complex than just counting fish; and
  • explain why fisheries should use EBM approaches;
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Context for Use

The previous investigation, Lab 2: Are You Going to Eat That?, alerted students to some of the fishing practices that are harmful to marine ecosystems. This investigation introduces students to the ecosystem-based fisheries management process and the tools used by researchers to assess and maintain ecosystem health.

The entire investigation will take two 50- to 60-minute class periods.

Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

In Part A, students read this excerpt from the WWF publication Ecosystem-Based Management for Marine Capture Fisheries (Acrobat (PDF) 366kB Jan17 08) to learn about EBM and how it can be used to improve fisheries management. Students are then introduced to the idea of EBFM tools for helping stakeholders make management decisions and read about ECOPATH modeling software.

In Part B, students learn about Integrated Ecosystem Assessments and the five main steps used. They are presented with real-life examples from NOAA Fisheries of each of the steps. They then read an Evaluation of Management Strategies of West Hawai'i island to see how an IEA played out.

Printable Materials

  • Activity sheet ( and )
  • Ecosystem-Based Management for Marine Capture Fisheries (Acrobat (PDF) 366kB Jan17 08)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Each of the steps in the IEA are linked to their corresponding NOAA page, which goes into more detail and provides more examples.

In the IEA, all the images can be clicked to make larger. You might want students to click to view Step 4 of the ACLIM project where they will see that ECOPATH was used as part of the risk assessment.

Consider grouping students into mock stakeholder and collaborator groups to argue for and against the five options of management strategies off west Hawai'i Island.


You can assess student understanding of topics addressed in this Investigation by grading their responses to the Stop and Think questions.

Additional Resources

Background Information