For traditional New England coastal communities to recover fisheries must recover; for fisheries to recover fish must recover; for fish to recover their ecosystems must recover. It takes an ecosystem to grow a fish.
A marine ecosystem includes the physical structure of the bottom as well as the physical and chemical properties of the water. It includes the plant life on shallow bottoms and the microscopic plant life in the sunlit surface waters, all of which comprise the base of the food chain -- the grass of the sea. It also includes all the animal species and the various ways they interact with each other. Biologists now recognize that groups of species that have lived a long time together in a large ecosystem have evolved a co-dependence that may not be at first obvious to the human observer outside the system. And, of course, food webs are critical life-and-death relationships among species that tie the whole system together.
In marine ecosystems, relationships between species and habitats is even further complicated by the fact that some life stages are spent in different habitats than others. So, if the survival of fish to adulthood is important to the fisherman, the condition of each of the habitats that nurtures that fish through its growth is also important. Habitat conditions deteriorate when toxic pollutants pour in and when climate change is so rapid as to be disruptive. So in order for fisheries to be appropriately and effectively managed, the catch of all species, food webs, habitat condition, pollution, and climate change must all be taken into account together.
Our fragmented way of managing human activities usually neglects these important interactions among living creatures and their habitats. In fisheries regulations, the ultimate fragmentation has occurred with the single-species approach that fails to acknowledge the presence of other species let alone their relationship to the managed species. Independently assessing and managing each resource species in an ecosystem is sheer folly if the aim is to conserve some of the natural world and natural resources for future generations.
As community-based fishermen work to do their part in restoring fish populations, it's important to ensure that all other hurdles threatening marine wildlife are also identified and removed. NAMA is working for holistic management in marine ecosystems that addresses fisheries, habitat alteration, food-web concerns, pollution, and climate change all together.