Image by Dr. Jonathan Moore.

Fishing for Solutions and Netting Results

By Stephen Posner and COMPASS

Dec 6, 2018


5 Minute Read


As scientists track warming waters, shifting habitats, ocean acidification, and changing human relationships with the ocean, it has become clear that ocean change has profound implications for people and ecosystems. At COMPASS, we champion and support scientists to engage with complex policy questions – like how to manage resources in a changing ocean – and we create opportunities for science to have broader impact by convening key people at key times.

Our ocean policy work has evolved in recent years to focus on the role of science about ocean change in decision-making. Fisheries management in the U.S. is a good example. Ocean change is currently impacting fish, the ecosystems that fish depend on, and the communities, businesses, and economies that a rich fishing culture supports.

As the implications of ocean change unfold for fisheries management, society needs to effectively respond to interconnected ecological, social, and economic challenges. Science has an important role in informing and framing key management dialogues and advancing the pace and quality of solutions.

In May 2018, we brought together experts from diverse fields (including fisheries, marine ecology, economics, social science, policy, law, and resource management) for a roundtable to explore decision-relevant questions related to ocean change. As Erica Goldman wrote in a blog post after the event, the roundtable was part of our ongoing work around the impacts of ocean change on people and ecosystems. A major goal for the May roundtable was to create the conditions for policymakers, managers, and scientists to share experiences, exchange ideas, and identify innovative solutions.

Some participants shared research perspectives to explain how the ocean is changing and predict shifts in habitats for hundreds of marine species. Others described the social vulnerability of fishing communities and how they respond to ecological and economic change. Managers and policy experts brought critical perspectives about governance from local to federal scales, managing people’s use of the ocean, and allocating rights to resources.

The interactions among participants led to eye-opening conversations about how decision makers use scientific evidence. For example, one exchange of ideas involved comparing two different kinds of science used in fisheries management decisions: stock assessments, which provide valuable information for managing fish stocks, and climate forecasts, which allow managers to anticipate and respond to changes in fish distributions and productivity. Both stock assessments and climate forecasts involve incomplete data and sophisticated scientific models, and both can be used to estimate current conditions and future trends. But managers don’t yet fully integrate both kinds of science into decision-making. Why is this?

We learned that decision-makers may trust scientific knowledge more or less depending on a few key factors, including: how they’ve traditionally made decisions based on particular information over the past years, the relevance of research outputs to management timelines (e.g. climate forecasts on decadal timescales are not as relevant to fisheries management on 2-3 year timescales), their level of familiarity with the science, and the extent to which scientific models have been validated over time.

These insights verified something that we’ve  known for a long time, but it bears repeating. Science in decision-making is about more than just providing scientific knowledge. It’s about developing relationships between decision-makers and scientists that allow them to explore and produce solutions together. The exchanges at the May roundtable highlighted the importance of developing trusting relationships between key people.

As one roundtable participant shared: “I gained a lot of clarity around science needs / governance / fisheries and climate related barriers and challenges to adaptation, and also current vehicles to onboard science.” That clarity wouldn’t have been possible without first establishing trust. When it comes to integrating climate considerations into fisheries management, there is a need for deliberate processes to build trust so that stakeholders can exchange ideas, engage with new information, consider conflicting evidence, and discuss options for solutions. COMPASS will keep these lessons in mind as we continue to build the infrastructure for effective dialogue on these topics.

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