Photo by Greg McFall/Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Black seabasses and sponges at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia.

One really exciting thing we have here in the South Atlantic is a Fishery Management Council that is very passionate about ecosystem-based management. The council is always working to consider all the different factors impacting fish populations – whether they’re happening inland, near the coast, or out in the open ocean. While the concept of ecosystem-based management is simple, implementing it has always been a challenge.

I’ve been working closely with a number of folks involved in the council on a next generation model to help support that move to ecosystem-based management. The goal is to be able to predict the impacts on the marine ecosystem of a variety of different conservation actions, including not just fishery policy options, but things like coastal marsh restoration, energy development, and agricultural incentives. That way, you’ll be able to make a more compelling case for conservation action in a region by predicting how it would benefit a variety of marine species.

We’re using Ecopath with Ecosim for the initial model. It’s a food web-based model that lets you predict the impacts of different actions across space and time. We’re close to finalizing the different functional groups in the model and have pulled together a set of GIS layers for depicting habitat of those groups. If everything goes according to plan, we should have a working prototype in a few months.