Decision analytic approaches have been widely recommended as well suited to solving disputed and ecologically complex natural resource management problems with multiple objectives and high uncertainty. However, the difference between theory and practice is substantial, as there are very few actual resource management programs that represent formal applications of decision analysis. We applied the process of structured decision making to Atlantic horseshoe crab harvest decisions in the Delaware Bay region to develop a multispecies adaptive management (AM) plan, which is currently being implemented. Horseshoe crab harvest has been a controversial management issue since the late 1990s. A largely unregulated horseshoe crab harvest caused a decline in crab spawning abundance. That decline coincided with a major decline in migratory shorebird populations that consume horseshoe crab eggs on the sandy beaches of Delaware Bay during spring migration. Our approach incorporated multiple stakeholders, including fishery and shorebird conservation advocates, to account for diverse management objectives and varied opinions on ecosystem function. Through consensus building, we devised an objective statement and quantitative objective function to evaluate alternative crab harvest policies. We developed a set of competing ecological models accounting for the leading hypotheses on the interaction between shorebirds and horseshoe crabs. The models were initially weighted based on stakeholder confidence in these hypotheses, but weights will be adjusted based on monitoring and Bayesian model weight updating. These models were used together to predict the effects of management actions on the crab and shorebird populations. Finally, we used a dynamic optimization routine to identify the state dependent optimal harvest policy for horseshoe crabs, given the possible actions, the stated objectives and our competing hypotheses about system function. The AM plan was reviewed, accepted and implemented by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 2012 and 2013. While disagreements among stakeholders persist, structured decision making enabled unprecedented progress towards a transparent and consensus driven management plan for crabs and shorebirds in Delaware Bay.
Biological Conservation – Elsevier
Published: Nov 1, 2015
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