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The Challenge of Change:
Managing for Sustainability of Oceanic Top Predator Species

A National Science Foundation (NSF) – Community Building Workshop
Marine Science Institute – University of California, Santa Barbara
April 12-14, 2007


This is a report on “The Challenge of Change: Managing for Sustainability of Oceanic Top Predator Species” workshop that took place in April 2007 at the Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbra. This workshop was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. OCE-0524073. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The links take you to the presenters’ posters and presentations where available. See the conference website for all presentations, posters and pictures from the meeting.


The project team organized and held a multi-disciplinary international workshop on the management of oceanic top predator species in the context of climate variability and other sources of change and uncertainty. The workshop, entitled: “The Challenge of Change: Managing for Sustainability of Oceanic Top Predator Species” took place on April 12-14, 2007 at the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The workshop brought together academic researchers and resource managers from a wide range of social and natural science disciplines. Through a mixture of presentations and discussion sessions, the participants explored how various types of expertise and methods of analysis could contribute to the design and implementation of more robust and sustainable management systems for these heavily exploited marine species.

The workshop contributed to the international CLIOTOP (Climate Impacts on Oceanic Top Predators project) by promoting the productive engagement of the social science research community in CLIOTOP - a broad international scientific program operating under the auspices of IGBP-GLOBEC (International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme - Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics). The CLIOTOP program is focused on understanding the combined effects of environmental changes and harvesting activities on dynamics of tuna, sharks, billfish and other oceanic top predator species. The members of the workshop organizing committee are active participants in CLIOTOP Working Group 5 (WG5) – “Socioeconomic Aspects and Management Strategies.”

Project Description:

Oceanic top predators, such as tuna, sharks and billfish, have been intensively harvested in competitive fisheries, resulting in undesirable socioeconomic outcomes, fish population declines, damage to by-catch species, and associated impacts on ocean ecosystems. The management of these highly-migratory species is complicated by the fact that migratory patterns, recruitment, prey availability, and other population dynamics are sensitive to imperfectly predictable climate variability and change. Global warming will introduce additional uncertainties, increase rates of change, and exacerbate preexisting vulnerabilities of many oceanic top predators.

In addition to these physical and biological changes, rapid technological and socioeconomic changes have fueled the explosive growth of industrial fisheries targeting several oceanic top predator species, including tunas, billfish and sharks. For example, growing demand for highly valued sashimi-grade tuna produced especially heavy harvesting pressure on tuna stocks, resulting in steep declines in the populations of the most valuable species.

Efforts to constrain these undesirable outcomes have focused on developing international fishery management institutions whose role is to promote both sustainable management of the resources and an equitable division of fishery benefits among nations claiming a proprietary or harvesting interest in the resource. Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs) have been established to, at least nominally, cover all of the world’s major tuna fisheries. However, these efforts at international cooperation are still groping for effective means to balance the often conflicting interests of their members while promoting more efficient and sustainable harvesting practices. All of these RFMOs are grappling with long-standing problems of legal overfishing, bycatch, destructive fishing methods, and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, especially in areas beyond national jurisdictions. In addition, uncertainty regarding the status and dynamics of these fish stocks has played a role in stalling management negotiations. As a result, these efforts have met with limited success.

Given these complex management challenges, we need to develop an interdisciplinary research community capable of providing useful advice to resource managers. There is a particular need to encourage the productive engagement of social scientists in that collaborative effort. The April 2007 workshop “The Challenge of Change: Managing for Sustainability of Oceanic Top Predator Species” was an important step in the development of such a research community. In particular, it promoted cross-disciplinary communication and mutual understanding and opened promising avenues for multidisciplinary research collaborations.

Workshop Speakers, Themes and Findings:

Day One:

The theme for the first day of the workshop was: “Coupling biophysical and socioeconomic understandings of change.” Two opening keynote talks addressed both of these aspects.

Dr. Robin Allen, the Director of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) opened the meeting with a keynote presentation entitled: “Fishery Management Institutions and the Challenge of Change.” He provided an overview of the history of ocean governance in the Eastern Pacific, and presented evidence of the role of climate variability in driving changes in tuna abundance and behavior in the Eastern Pacific. He also discussed the readiness of RFMOs to respond to the potential impacts of global climate change by describing current efforts to strengthen and modernize RFMOs, including those focused on management of tunas and related species.

The second keynote presentation, by Andreas Walli, of the Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University described cutting-edge efforts to use spatial and temporal movement data from archival electronic tags to understand the effects of environmental variability on Atlantic Bluefin tuna and to improve management.

A series of four panel presentations and discussions followed the opening keynote talks. Participants in these sessions included high-level international fishery managers, experts in international fisheries law and management, and members of the academic research community. The first panel addressed: “Interactions between climate and other types of change affecting oceanic top predators and their exploitation.” Two speakers participated in this panel:

  • Peter Makato Miyake, is a world-renown expert on tuna fisheries and markets. Dr. Miyake had served for many years as the Assistant Executive Secretary of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT). He is currently an Advisor to the Federation of Japan Tuna Fisheries Cooperative Association.
  • M. Patrice Guillotreau, an economist at University of Nantes, France is conducting research on the development and functioning of the European tuna industry and their associated distant water fisheries.

Dr. Miyake addressed the role of rapidly expanding industrial fleets, technological improvements, changes in industry structure and growing world demand for high-quality fish in driving patterns of tuna exploitation. He noted that management challenges arise from data inadequacies and the effects of changes in industry structure. The latter include the rapid expansion of large-scale purse seine fishing, the rise of tuna farming – particularly Bluefin tuna fattening operations in the Mediterranean, and the recent shift from large to small longline vessels, especially in the Western and Central Pacific. Dr. Guillotrot provided additional insights on the changing competitive dynamics of the tuna industry by documenting the increasing concentration of the European tuna canning sector.

The second panel addressed: “Changes in values, ecosystem concerns, NGO participation, management objectives and enforcement.” The speakers were:

  • Elizabeth DeSombre, a political scientist from Wellesley College, MA.
  • Kristina Gjerde, an expert in marine law, serves as high seas policy advisor to the IUCN Global Marine Programme and coordinator of the World Commission on Protected Areas High Seas MPA Task Force.
  • Alison Rieser, a professor of marine law and policy at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.

Dr. DeSombre addressed the inherent difficulty of managing multinational marine fisheries given the paucity of information on the status of stocks, the limited predictability of harvester reactions to regulations and the long time lags between the costs of management and resulting benefits. She noted that coalitions of the “green and the greedy” can foster successful management, in some cases.

Kristina Gjerde emphasized the importance of shifting the thinking in fishery management from species and stock management towards managing dynamic ecosystems. She noted that conservation objectives must be flexible enough to responds to changes in species and habitats. In addition, she called for using our growing understanding of the effects of changes in oceanographic conditions on marine top predator migration, spawning and calving grounds to define pelagic marine protected areas that dynamically respond to changing conditions.

Dr. Reiser focused on the importance of strengthening RFMOs to fully implement the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement. She noted that concern about the prospective impacts of climate change on the marine environment has focused critical attention, from the scientific community, a wide variety of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the fisheries sector, on the performance of RFMOs and the shortcomings of current management arrangements. In light of this increased scrutiny, she suggested strategies for improving RFMO performance.

The third panel, on “RFM regimes – comparisons of structure and function” addressed these RFMO performance issues. Speakers in this panel were:

  • Brian Macdonald is the recently-retired former Executive Secretary of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT)
  • Sun Kwon Soh is the Science Manager for the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
  • Hiromoto Watanabe is a Fishery Liaison Officer in the Fishery Department of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Brian Macdonald outlined the history of the CCSBT’s efforts to reverse the overexploitation of Southern Bluefin tuna, which are among the most valuable fish species in the world. The potential for successful cooperative management of this fishery appeared high due to the limited number of nations involved in the harvest, high quality scientific advice and the fact that a single nation, Japan, constitutes the primary market for Bluefin. The CCSBT never realized that potential due, in part, to the pursuit of narrow national interests by the parties to the agreement that resulted in weak management actions. In addition, long-term, massive under-reporting of catch has just recently come to light. He argued that this apparent fraud has destroyed the value of scientific assessments based on the false data, and has created deep uncertainty about the current status of the stocks.

Dr. Soh outlined the structure and history of the Western Central Pacific Fishery Commission. He noted that most decisions are made by consensus, and that the members have not yet implement the strong regulatory measures suggested by the scientific committee to prevent overfishing of Yellowfin and Bigeye tuna, but have instead taken smaller steps to reduce harvesting capacity and juvenile mortality for both species

Dr. Watanabe discussed the roles of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department and the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) of United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in providing advice and support to RFMOs and other Regional Fishery Bodies (RFBs). He noted that COFI has recently focused on strengthening RFMOs and improving their effectiveness. COFI has called for performance reviews of RFMOs and RFBs, focusing on flexibility to respond to changing conditions. An upcoming FAO scoping meeting on climate change and fisheries will provide opportunities for the scientific community to help FAO shape its approach to this issue.

The fourth panel, on “Innovations in Institutions” focused on how to improve the capacity of fishery management institutions, including RFMOs, to effectively manage dynamic fishery resources in a rapidly changing physical and socioeconomic environment. Speakers in this panel were:

  • Frank Alcock, a political scientist at the New College of Florida. He conducts research on environmental policy and the design of international fishery governance institutions.
  • Jon Van Dyke, a professor of law at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii. He has conducted extensive research on ocean law and international environmental law.
  • D.G. Webster, a postdoctoral fellow at the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Southern California. She is conducting research on the political economy of evolving tuna and billfish management regimes across the world’s oceans.

Dr. Alcock described the interplay between distributional issues, ecological sustainability and economic efficiency in driving the design of fishery management policies. He discussed why policy makers often fail to follow the advice of fishery scientists and provided insights as to how to improve the incorporation of scientific input in the policy process. He also addressed options for controlling the growing problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) harvests in many of the world’s top predator fisheries.

Professor Van Dyke focused his remarks on the potential impacts of climate change on fishery resources and prospects for addressing those impacts through international fishery governance institutions. In that context he discussed application of the precautionary approach, attention to allocation principles and implementation of mechanisms to reward nations that invest in monitoring and maintaining fish stocks and to punish those that misbehave. He provided examples of institutional responses to actual climate changes affecting the marine ecosystem off Alaska, and concluded with recommendations to improve fishery management in light of the uncertain effects of climate change.

Dr. Webster discussed the implications of the dual role of RFMOs – protecting both the fish and the fishers – in driving the evolution of fishery management regimes. She argued that the likelihood that effective management measures will be adopted for a given fish stock depends not only on the status of the resource, but also on the nature of competition within the fishery and its effects on the economic status of the harvesters.

Professor Oran Young wrapped up the first day of the workshop with a keynote presentation on “The Challenge of Change: Governing complex and dynamic marine socio-ecological systems.” Dr. Young is the Co-Director of the Program on Governance for Sustainable Development at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara. He addressed the implications for both research methodology and management design of the complexity and dynamic nature of these natural systems.

With regard to research methodology, he emphasized the importance of giving explicit attention to the complex and variable nature of marine systems. He noted that, in contrast to the well-behaved systems often assumed for purposes of analysis, real world systems are often characterized by nonlinearities, chaotic behavior, exogenous shocks and fast, irreversible and often “nasty” changes. As a result, methods capable of dealing with complex causality are needed, and he provided examples of some useful approaches.

Regarding governance design, he discussed the need to tailor governance systems to fit the specific features of the natural system in question, and the need to develop diagnostic methods to identify the types of changes that may affect the system. He further noted that governance could be made more responsive and effective by performing holistic, multi-sectoral analyses; developing monitoring and early warning systems that are coupled to rapid response capabilities; and emphasizing flexibility and social learning. Furthermore, the ability to cope with uncertainty can be enhanced by adopting precautionary approaches, insurance schemes (provided, for example, by well-designed marine protected areas) and useful heuristics based on fishers’ traditional and informal ecological knowledge. He concluded that while no simple, all-purpose prescriptions are possible, there is nevertheless considerable scope for designing governance regimes that are well-matched to specific situations.

The day concluded with a poster presentation. Posters were presented by Jane Alpine, Minling Pan, Alistar Hobday, Patrick Lehodey, Jenny Sun, Robert Ahrens (2 posters), Elizabeth Havice, Robert McKelvey, Vincent Gallucci and Robert Foy, Jian Zhang, D.C. Biggs and A.E. Jochens and Peter Jacques and DG Webster.

Day Two

The theme for the second day of the workshop was “How do we study these issues?” The agenda included a panel session focused on research methodology, a presentation on the organization of multidisciplinary research, a keynote talk on the information needs of fishery managers, and three breakout discussion sessions aimed at exploring fruitful avenues for future research. The topic for the panel was: “Integrating biophysical and socioeconomic models – How can the models and their integration provide insight on management in the context of change and uncertainty?” Speakers for this session were:

  • George Watters conducts research on factors driving the population dynamics of marine species. He works at the NOAA Pacific Fisheries Environmental Laboratory, Pacific Grove CA.
  • Robert McKelvey, a professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Montana. His research focuses on deriving insights on the competitive dynamics of multi-national fisheries, and the likely outcomes of alternative management choices from game theoretic models.
  • John Kennedy, an economics professor at La Trobe University, Australia. His work focuses on modeling the behavior and performance of tuna fisheries.

Dr. Watters directed his remarks at the charge for the panel by laying out a proposed framework for productive interactions between the CLIOTOP Working Group that he leads – Working Group 4 on “Synthesis and Modeling” and Working Group 5 on “Socioeconomic Aspects and Management Strategies.” He proposed that the benefits of such improved interaction would involve “give and take” – with WG4 contributing global, spatially-explicit predictions about variables that matter to industry, governments and NGOs, and W5 contributing a richer, and more realistic set of rules, actions and objectives to be considered in the analysis. The interaction would also result in synergism, in that by working together, WG4 and WG5 would be better able to engage in an integrated modeling effort that could help to identify management strategies and actions that are flexible and robust to change.

Dr. Kennedy outlined efforts to develop a model of the Western and Central Pacific tuna fisheries. These fisheries target four main species, each of which has large distinct habitats and migratory patterns. These migrations cross a large number of EEZs and high seas zones bringing the fish in contact with domestic and distant water fishing fleets. In discussing applications of such models, he explained that regulatory changes can be evaluated on the basis of their impacts on ecological sustainability, economic efficiency, socioeconomic criteria and notions of equity. Often regulations may have positive impacts in some of these areas and negative impacts in others. An important policy issues is thus the question of who decides how to weight these criteria.

Dr McKelvey discussed the types of insights that can be gained from the development of analytical models that do not seek to find specific numerical values for variables, but rather attempt to ferret out relationships between variables of interest. He then described his work on the role of information in fishery game models. That work suggests that improved scientific information on the status and behavior of fish stocks can be a two-edged sword. Cooperatively managed fisheries can use such information to increase net economic returns to harvesters while improving the biological status of the fish stocks. On the other hand, if the harvesting nations fail to cooperate, such information could trigger a harvesting race that would hasten the depletion of the resource, while impoverishing of the harvesters. This suggests a critical need to couple scientific improvements with improvements in governance.

Michael Orbach made the sole presentation in the session on the organization of multi-disciplinary research. He is the director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory in the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.

Dr. Orbach discussed the need to address the “total ecology of pelagic resource policy and management.” Biophysical, human and institutional ecologies – and the mapping of these onto one another – comprise the necessary elements of this total ecology. To illustrate the need for such an integrated approach, he explained that policies aimed at “ecosystem management” can only be defined as: the management of human behaviors towards specific objectives through a specific governance system which affect, or are affected by, a specific biophysical environment. This perspective makes it clear that any management action will have multiple consequences, including bio/ecological, social and economic impacts. He then described an analytical approach to map and understand interactions between the three different ecologies. He concluded that such an approach could provide an organizing framework and use useful tool for multi-disciplinary research.

Dr. Rebecca Lent, who is the Director of the NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs, provided a wrap-up and charge to the research community with a keynote talk entitled: “Research in Support of Stewardship The view from the trenches.” She outlined of the status of various tuna stocks and argued that, in most cases, we already have an adequate understanding of that status. The primary reason for some of the most notable failures of RFMOs to reduce harvesting of depleted fish stocks has been lack of political will. To overcome that barrier, she argued that policy makers need scientists to communicate their advice is very clear, understandable terms and to make that information readily available to the broad interested public. In addition, policy makers need to be able to consider a broad range of policy alternatives that could achieve sought-after objectives. She concluded that multi-disciplinary research to evaluate the full range of impacts of alternative management schemes would be highly desirable, and urged members of the scientific community to engage in the policy process.

Breakout Sessions:

Workshop participants were divided into smaller groups for each of three breakout sessions.

Breakout Session One:

For the first breakout discussion, all groups were asked to conceptualize research needs by addressing the following question: “How can we ensure that marine top predators are managed sustainably in the context of a changing & variable climate?” They were asked to further focus on: “What problems need to be addressed?” and “How can the research community help?”

Themes that emerged from the discussions included the significance of time lags in the policy process and the demand in the policy community for "indicators" that signal a fishery is in danger far enough in advance to change policy. Fisheries commissions meet semi-annually or annually and move much slower than conditions in the water. Working with physical scientists to develop a list of indicators that can help the commissions keep in front of changes should be a priority. The discussion also raised the question of whether social scientists could identify indicators of potential changes in fishing behavior or demand.

The workshop participants identified analysis of the effectiveness of alternative management tools and institutional choices as a fruitful topic for future research. They noted that international fishery management presents a rich set of examples of different organizations addressing a common set of environmental problems in different ways.

However, there has not yet been an adequate investigation of the effectiveness of the various management approaches and institutional structures employed by these organizations. Both social and natural science contributions would be needed for such an analysis. It was further noted that while there is a growing body of research on institutional design, very little information is available about reasons for the lack of management regimes in some places, or the effects of changing environmental conditions in those instances.

Research also is needed on the interactions between the broader effects of climate-related environmental changes on fishing communities and those impacts that directly affect the targeted fish stocks. One of the groups used a two-way matrix of fish and non-fish effects of climatic changes and direct and indirect climate effects to organize their consideration of research questions. They noted that there has been a fair amount of research on direct effects on fish but far less on indirect effects and non-fish effects. Indirect effects may be under-researched because those questions call for a considerable degree of collaboration between social, biological and physical scientists.

This same group suggested developing a fisheries research community similar to IPCC, where a broad array of researchers could consider the impacts of different climate scenarios. They also argued that the earlier social scientists were involved in the research process the more likely the various research communities could produce useful multi-disciplinary research. They argued that collaboration between physical, biological and social scientists must start with project design. These research communities have different data needs, levels of aggregation and time periods of concern. Attempting to use completed biophysical science project data as an input for social science research may result in an unworkable mismatch. Such problems could be avoided by asking the social scientists what types of input they need before the physical and biological scientists begin their studies.

Some of the workshop participants also noted that research is needed on interactions between RFMOs and other interest groups and organizations – for example, industry groups, United Nations programs and NGOs. While there has been much discussion about the effects of overlapping jurisdictions and insufficient communication among these entities, not enough has been done to research or address those issues.

Breakout Session Two:

For the second breakout session, each of the groups was asked to focus on how to frame the research questions to make them both meaningful and amenable to multidisciplinary analysis. We asked each group to identify specific research questions that:

  • Address problems of managing fish/fishers and also address change and uncertainty,
  • Are most important to answer, and
  • That they would personally like to be involved in addressing.
  • We also asked the groups to consider how research could be improved by interdisciplinary approaches.

The discussions converged on three broad sets of research questions. One group suggested a broad effort to create an institutional fitness landscape, that would analyze the biological status of the resources being managed, the health of the industry, and the decision making structure within the management organizations. Attention would also focus on modeling communication pathways, assessing capacity to cope with change, understanding the drivers of institutional change and identifying ways to address the allocation impacts of climatic changes and the potential unintentional socio-economic impacts of management actions. The group noted that such an analysis could generate several research projects under a single umbrella.

Another group proposed a series of research questions focused on the relationship between international fisheries bodies, including where they overlap and how such overlaps are handled. Their discussion also focused on how to facilitate multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional research. The usefulness of online collaborative tools was discussed. The role of major funding agencies and international bodies such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in promoting this type of work was also addressed.

The third group developed a list of potential research areas. Much of their interest focused on tensions between national sovereignty and the needs of international governance. Questions of interest included: a) What are the conflicts between national priorities and global/regional priorities? b) What are the factors and conditions that allow and encourage national governments to relinquish authority to an international governance organization? c) Which nations will buy into or reject regionalism, and under what conditions? and d) Under what conditions does pooled sovereignty work better than individual national regulation? They also expressed interest in questions relating to the interplay between institutional change, ecosystem complexity and uncertainties. Relevant issues include leadership, networks and pressure from downstream users. In particular, the group raised the question of whether or not one could anticipate institutional tipping points, at which major management paradigm shifts would take place. Research to identify the top priorities in managing fisheries that might be affected by global warming was also identified as an interesting and important topic. In particular, research should focus on the information needs that should be addressed to implement specific policy responses to these changes?

Participants from all groups also discussed the impediments to multidisciplinary science and how they could be addressed. Among the most difficult problems are academic barriers to multidisciplinary work that have resulted in an insufficient number of social scientists interested in fisheries problems. Challenges are also presented by the technical aspects of multidisciplinary work – for example, different data resolution needs. Funding issues are also problematic, because some funding sources do not traditionally support multidisciplinary efforts. To address the funding problem, they suggested generating a list of organizations that do fund such efforts and those that do not, but could. The latter group could then be encouraged to expand the range of projects eligible for support.

The final breakout session provided an opportunity for the workshop participants to organize themselves into clusters to further explore specific research directions. One small group immediately began work on brainstorming ideas for future collaboration, with the view of putting together a proposal. Specifically, their discussion focused on the role of market dynamics in driving exploitation patterns. Another group focused its discussion on the interplay between governance and technology. Their discussion explored how fish tracking, vessel monitoring and other technological innovations could be productively exploited to facilitate improved governance. This group also indicated an interest in developing future collaborations around this topic. The third group focused its discussion on providing advice on the structure and content of the edited book that the workshop organizers proposed as a product of this workshop.

Follow-up Activities:

The workshop stimulated the formation of several interdisciplinary teams each of which are now developing proposals for research funding. In addition, papers presented at the workshop will be incorporated in an edited book that will focus attention on the potential contributions of interdisciplinary research to management of these dynamic resources and to the design of effective governance arrangements. Finally, several of the workshop participants have submitted paper proposals for the GLOBEC-CLIOTOP (Climate Impacts on Oceanic Top Predators) Symposium in December 2007 in La Paz Mexico. Their participation in that meeting will keep the momentum going and will facilitate the formation of partnerships with the broader CLIOTOP community.