Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 8723
Title: An ecosystem-based approach to risk assessment
Author: K. K. Holsman, J. F. Samhouri, Geoff Cook, Elliott L. Hazen, Eric Olsen, Maria Dillard, Sarah K. Gaichas, Chris Kelble, M. J. Fogarty, K. S. Andrews
Publication Year: 2017
Journal: Ecosystem Health & Sustainability
Volume: 3
Pages: e01256
DOI: 10.1002/ehs2.1256
Keywords: risk assessment,ecosystem-based management,Coupled human-natural systems

Risk assessments quantify the probability of undesirable events along with their consequences. They are increasingly used to prioritize management interventions and conduct tradeoff analyses, making risk assessments an essential component of Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM). A central objective of most risk assessments is to characterize uncertainty and cumulative impacts associated with one or more pressures of interest. Risk assessments have wide application to various fields and have been used in marine resource management to help evaluate the risk of environmental, ecological, and anthropogenic pressures on species or habitats (e.g., toxicity to species, the probability of extinction for species of concern, management of data-poor fisheries, biological impacts of habitat alteration). Traditionally, marine risk assessments focused on singular pressure effects on species or habitats, but recent advancements have included use of risk assessments in an EBM context, providing a method for streamlining the relatively arduous task of evaluating the cumulative impacts of multiple pressures on multiple ecosystem components. Here we describe a conceptual framework for ecosystem risk assessment (ERA), highlighting its critical role in operationalizing EBM, with specific attention to ocean management considerations. This framework builds on the deep ecotoxicological and conservation literatures on risk assessment and especially on more recent advances that focus on risks posed by fishing to marine ecosystems. We review how examples of ecosystem risk assessments from the United States and abroad fit into this framework, explore the variety of analytical approaches that have been used to conduct ERAs, and assess the challenges and data gaps that remain. This review offers insights into future prospects for ecosystem risk assessments as EBM decision support tools, their place in the context of integrated ecosystem assessments, and a new generation of risk assessment for coupled natural and human systems.

Theme: Ecosystem approach to improve management of marine resources
Foci: Provide scientific support for the implementation of ecosystem-based management
Describe the interaction between human activities, particularly harvest of marine resources, and ecosystem function.