By Tundi Agardy, MEAM Contributing Editor (

Many agencies tout their commitment to adopting an ecosystem approach to management. What is actually meant by this commitment, and whether it constitutes a move toward ecosystem-based management, is open to question. The terms are often used without clear definition or, when defined, use so much jargon as to be indecipherable.

But let's assume that what is meant by an ecosystem approach to management as adopted by a single sectoral agency is that the entirety of an ecosystem is taken into consideration when setting the limits to that sector's use. Does this constitute EBM?

In my mind, the answer is no. The objectives for sectoral management are necessarily narrow, and are based on optimizing use for a particular sector. Thus fisheries managers might take whole ecosystems into account when optimizing fish harvest – keeping in mind what things affect the target stocks and the potential for utilizing them. Similarly, tourism ministries may propose policies and regulations that take whole ecosystems or seascapes into account, but nonetheless aim to maximize the recreational values of the area for tourism. Thus, the "ecosystem" enters into the management, but the management does not de facto become ecosystem-based. One could say that the ecosystem approach undertaken by each sectoral management authority is necessary, but not sufficient, to achieve true EBM and all the benefits that flow from it.

What true EBM requires is that an ecosystem becomes the focus of management in two ways: 1) management for single sectoral objectives takes the wider ecosystem into account, not just the target stock, resource, or area (this is what I consider to be the ecosystem approach to sectoral management), and 2) the management of all sectors across the ecosystem is coordinated in some way so that the integration of all necessary management produces EBM.

In effect this is two sides of a coin: management focuses on what affects the use or values being managed (this being an improved version of sectoral management, but sectoral management nonetheless), and management collectively focuses on the full array of ecosystem services that support all uses (ecosystem-based management).

EBM also means stretching what is meant by "ecosystem". In most cases, true EBM will mean focusing on marine areas and species, but also focusing on coastal areas, freshwater, and watersheds, and even land use in areas removed from the coastal zone. Thus while the "ecosystem" in the ecosystem approach to sectoral management is somewhat circumscribed, the "ecosystem" in many cases of EBM is actually a suite of interconnected ecosystems, spanning wide areas, multiple uses, and a full range of management objectives.