Oh What a Tangled Web: Ecosystem-Based Management

Part A: Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) and EBM Tools

Marine ecosystems are incredibly complex systems made up of living organisms, their environment, and the processes that drive them. Because of the connections and relationships among the many parts of an ecosystem, fishing for a particular species of fish may have consequences not just for that species, but for other wildlife, habitats, and humans. It takes more than a healthy population of fish to sustain a fisheryit takes a healthy ecosystem.


1. Read this excerpt from the WWF publication Ecosystem-Based Management for Marine Capture Fisheries (Acrobat (PDF) 366kB Jan17 08) to learn about ecosystem-based management (EBM) and how it can be used to improve fisheries management.

Checking In

  • What are the basic principles of ecosystem-based management?

Stop and Think

1: In your own words, summarize the elements required for EBM to be a successful approach to managing fisheries.

2: Discuss three major obstacles standing in the way of broader implementation of EBM in the world's fisheries.


2. Read about EBFM.

When EBM is applied to Fisheries, as it is with NOAA Fisheries in the U.S., it is often referred to as Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management (EBFM).

NOAA Fisheries defines Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management (EBFM) as

a systematic approach to fisheries management in a geographically specified area that contributes to the resilience and sustainability of the ecosystem; recognizes the physical, biological, economic, and social interactions among the affected fishery-related components of the ecosystem, including humans; and seeks to optimize benefits among a diverse set of societal goals. (NMFS Policy 01-120)

3. Watch this brief video for an introduction to Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management (EBFM).

What is Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management? from Pew.

4. Visit NOAA's EBFM page to read about some of the programs using ecosystem-based fisheries management in the U.S.

Ecosystem Modeling

5. Read about what ecosystem modeling is.

Fisheries managers use tools to help construct a clearer picture of the current state of an ecosystem's resources and to help determine the best management approaches for maintaining the health of a particular ecosystem. EBFM tools are typically software or some other method that can:

  • create models of ecosystems or key ecosystem processes;
  • generate scenarios that illustrate the consequences of different management decisions on natural resources and the economy; or
  • facilitate stakeholder involvement in planning processes.

Currently, there are several options for ecosystem modeling available for fisheries managers. One of the original ecosystem modeling tools, ECOPATH, is still in use today.

6. Visit NOAA's page ECOPATH Modeling: Precursor to an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management to learn more about this tool. Be sure to read through the four parts: Modeling Marine Ecosystems, Model Simplicity, Unlocking the Mysteries, and Widespread Uses for ECOPATH.

Checking In

  • Where does the name ECOPATH come from?
  • What did the incorporation of ECOSIM and ECOSPACE add to ECOPATH?

Stop and Think

3: How do you think EBFM can help limit marine biodiversity loss?

Optional Extensions

About Models-from NOAA Fisheries


ECOPATH Models Explained

Symphony Modeling Tool A Fisheries planning tool used in Sweden.

What is Marine EBM?