Regulating a complex adaptive system via its wasp-waist: Grappling with ecosystem-based management of the New England herring fishery

Andrew Bakun, Elizabeth A. Babcock, Christine Santora

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

28 Scopus citations


We use the New England herring fishery as an example of the unresolved scientific issues pertinent to ecosystem-based management of forage-fish fisheries. The biomass of herring off New England is currently well above maximum sustainable yield (BMSY), leading to pressure for expanded harvests. Associated concerns include: the maintenance of sufficiently abundant forage to meet the current needs of marine mammals and seabirds while supporting the rebuilding of overfished groundfish resources; the preservation of the service functions of a healthy population of pelagic zooplanktivorous fish to prevent possible outbreaks of pests, or hypoxia events; and the limitation of unintended bycatch of marine mammals, seabirds, and juvenile stages of groundfish. Perhaps a self-enhancing feedback loop, involving predation by herring on the early life stages of their groundfish predators, might result in regime shifts that could not be easily reversed. A plausible outcome of these ideas is a dichotomy in management choice between (i) promoting an ecosystem dominated by valuable groundfish resources and (ii) promoting the current ecosystem that features a large herring resource associated with abundant and energy-rich forage for marine mammals, seabirds, and continued high productivity of valuable shellfish resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1768-1775
Number of pages8
JournalICES Journal of Marine Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 1 2009



  • Bycatch
  • Endangered species
  • Feedback loop
  • Foodweb
  • Midwater trawling
  • Regime shift
  • Stock collapse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

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