Adaptive management in conservation planning

It’s hard to believe that it’s already September and that the end of the year is fast approaching. Over the last few months we’ve made significant progress on development of a Conservation Plan (CP) for the commercial Dungeness crab fishery describing the various efforts and management measures being implemented to reduce the risk of marine life entanglements off Oregon. To date, much of our work has focused on drafting descriptions of the fishery and protected whale and turtle species. Additionally, we have been working to refine our methods for assessing the anticipated incidental take of those species that may be expected to occur under the CP.

In the coming weeks, we will shift gears and tackle another key component of the CP which describes the adaptive management components that are an integral part of the overall CP strategy. Adaptive management is a tool that is commonly used, particularly for large-scale systems, to address uncertainty in conservation planning. This uncertainty may stem from limited data or information on the ecology of the species or its habitat, or from lack of clarity about the effectiveness of various management techniques and their potential impacts on the species. A direct relationship exists between the level of biological uncertainty for a species and the degree of risk that an incidental take permit (ITP) could pose for that species (USFWS and NMFS, 2016).

With regards to whale entanglement and conservation planning across the West Coast, various efforts are taking place by state and federal fishery managers, scientists, researchers, industry members, and other stakeholders to fill some of the critical information gaps in order to effectively address this issue. In Oregon, this includes work to better understand seasonal whale distribution off our coast (see my last post here), analyses to estimate the potential impacts (i.e., reduction in pot-days; a metric equal to one pot fished for one day) of proposed management measures, and collaboration across the West Coast to consider the effectiveness and feasibility of alternative management techniques (e.g., gear modifications or configurations).

The development of a complete CP and ITP application is slated to be finished and ready for submission to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) this winter. While we are working hard to ensure that this CP includes the best available information, many of the efforts to better understand and respond to this issue will still be underway when an ITP is applied for. It is for this reason that adaptive management is such a crucial element.

The CP handbook borrows from the 2009 Department of the Interior Adaptive Management Technical Guide to describe adaptive management as follows (Williams et al., 2009):

An adaptive approach involves exploring alternative ways to meet management objectives, predicting the outcomes of alternatives based on the current state of knowledge, implementing one or more of these alternatives, monitoring to learn about the impacts of management actions, and then using the results to update knowledge and adjust management actions. Adaptive management focuses on learning and adapting, through partnerships of managers, scientist, and other stakeholders who learn together how to create and maintain sustainable resource systems.

As this description points out, partnerships and collaboration are essential to developing an effective adaptive management approach. To this end, adaptive measures will be a key topic at our upcoming crab industry public meetings which will take place in October. At these meetings, we hope to provide information and solicit feedback from industry to design an approach that both minimizes impacts to the fishery, while maximizing the conservation benefit provided to endangered and/or threatened species. Through additional collaboration with NMFS, we will refine this strategy to ensure that it meets the necessary standards.

While this is certainly going to be one of the more challenging components of the CP process, I look forward to seeing much of the work that I have been doing over the last few months come together into a refined strategy that is responsive to new or changing information and circumstances.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. 2016. Habitat conservation planning and incidental take permit processing handbook. 405 pp.

Williams, B. L., Szaro, R. C., and Shapiro, C. D. 2009. Adaptive management: the U.S. Department of the Interior Technical Guide. Adaptive Management Working Group, 84 pp.

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1 thought on “Adaptive management in conservation planning

  1. Thanks for your post, Brittany. It sounds like all the work you have been doing will come together nicely in the CP and provides a a strong foundation for this challenging next step in the process toward an effective adaptive management approach. Though there are many uncertainties, it’s been impressive to read about what’s known about the crab industry in Oregon through your previous posts. I look forward to hearing more about the partnerships and collaborations in this next step.

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