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NCCOS Project

EcoGIS: Tools for Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management

This project began in September 2004 and was completed in February 2008

The EcoGIS project was launched to determine how geographic information systems (GIS) technology, marine data, and custom analysis tools could be leveraged to promote fishery management strategies based on the ecosystem approach. To begin, we developed a fish mapping tool that could be used to create time-and-area summarized maps of fishing catch and effort based on logbook, observer, or independent survey data sets.

Why We Care
In the United States, commercial fisheries are worth $4 billion and bring 1.5 million jobs to the economy. Some fish stocks are fished sustainably, while others are still subject to overfishing. Ecosystem approaches to management (EAM) is an alternative to the single-species management approach that looks at how the biological, human, and physical aspects of the ecosystem affect fisheries, and it is gaining favor among fisheries managers and scientists.

What We Did
We began by developing a GIS-based fishery mapping tool to determine:

  1. Fishing Catch and Effort Analysis—Where, when, and how do fisheries operate within a given area? How do regulatory changes affect fisheries?
  2. Area Characterization—Within a selected area, what are the physical and biological parameters, such as sediment type and species abundance? What is the regulatory framework?
  3. Bycatch Analysis—What are the trends in bycatch (unintentional, unwanted capture) among different fisheries and gear types, geographic areas, time periods and habitat types?
  4. Habitat Interactions—What types and amounts of habitats are fished with bottom-tending gear, such as dredges and trawls?

What We Found
The tool produced a visual depiction of these aspects and included physical and biological attributes of the ecosystem. The aggregated map was shared with the public and decision-makers. The work also brought to light themes addressing the broader field of EAM, data management practices, and EAM toolsets. We determined that there is no single GIS supertool for EAM, and that, where possible, tools (ideally automated) should be developed for specific purposes and combined.

Next Steps
Although the EcoGIS project has been completed, we continue our work to develop and modify GIS tools that are applicable to current management and research needs. These tools will enable simplified and efficient data query, provide the ability to visualize data over time, and include ways to synthesize multidimensional data from diverse sources.

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