Tipping Points in Fisheries Management
February 3, 2014
Jim Estes, a member of the Ocean Tipping Points Project’s Science Working Group, recently co-authored an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about integrating the science of tipping points in fisheries management. “Integrating the invisible fabric of nature into fisheries management” (PNAS, January 14, 2014, 111:2, 581-584) argues that fisheries science and management must develop a sharper focus on how disruptions of species interactions can push fisheries-rich ecosystems past their tipping points.
Overfishing and environmental change have triggered many severe and unexpected consequences. As existing communities have collapsed, new ones have become established, fundamentally transforming ecosystems to those that are often less productive for fisheries, more prone to cycles of booms and busts, and thus less manageable. We contend that the failure of fisheries science and management to anticipate these transformations results from a lack of appreciation for the nature, strength, complexity, and outcome of species interactions. Ecologists have come to understand that networks of interacting species exhibit nonlinear dynamics and feedback loops that can produce sudden and unexpected shifts. We argue that fisheries science and management must follow this lead by developing a sharper focus on species interactions and how disrupting these interactions can push ecosystems in which fisheries are embedded past their tipping points.