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Feature: A Pathway for Conducting Ecosystem Research

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Essential Fish Habitat research has contributed over 40 publications since 2005. Both nearshore (pictured above) and offshore research is conducted.

An ecosystem approach to fisheries and marine mammal management is part of NOAA's mandate to manage ecologically related species (fishes, crabs, seals, sea lions, and whales). As part of this mandate, NOAA's management of fisheries in Alaska includes catch shares, marine protected areas and non-trawl zones, caps on total groundfish landings, fisheries closures once target and non-target species quotas are reached, and a ban on forage fish fisheries (other than herring). In the high Arctic (Chukchi and Beaufort Seas), NOAA has set a zero quota through implementation of an Arctic Fishery Management Plan, where no fisheries for groundfish or crab will be considered until proper assessments are in place.

Alaska has been a pioneer of ecosystem research in agency science. NOAA's Fisheries Oceanography Cooperative Investigations (FOCI), established in the 1980s, brought Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory oceanographers and Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) fish biologists together. Beginning in the 1990s, the ecosystems considerations chapter of the North Pacific Groundfish annual stock assessment report brought ecosystem information into the stock assessment process.

In keeping with the ecosystem approach to research, the AFSC formed the Habitat and Ecological Processes Research (HEPR) program in 2005 to facilitate interdisciplinary research in habitat and marine ecology. The HEPR program was organized as a non-traditional program (consisting of one person) based on the idea that a nonhierarchical approach to research was more flexible and that groups of AFSC staff would be identified as necessary to address specific research issues. (A traditional agency approach is hierarchical and based on a separate, permanent "ecosystems research team" structure.)

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