Lessons learned from developing integrated ecosystem assessments to inform marine ecosystem-based management in the USA

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Borne out of a collective movement towards ecosystem-based management (EBM), multispecies and multi-sector scientific assessments of the ocean are emerging around the world. In the USA, integrated ecosystem assessments (IEAs) were formally defined 5 years ago to serve as a scientific foundation for marine EBM. As outlined by the US National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration in 2008, an IEA is a cyclical process consisting of setting goals and targets, defining indicators, analysing status, trends, and risk, and evaluating alternative potential future management and environmental scenarios to enhance information needed for effective EBM. These steps should be hierarchical, iterative, non-prescriptive about technical implementation, and adaptable to existing information for any ecosystem. Despite these strengths and some initial successes, IEAs and EBM have yet to be fully realized in the USA. We propose eight tenets that can be adopted by scientists, policy-makers, and managers to enhance the use of IEAs in implementing EBM. These tenets include (i) engage with stakeholders, managers, and policy-makers early, often, and continually; (ii) conduct rigorous human dimensions research; (iii) recognize the importance of transparently selecting indicators; (iv) set ecosystem targets to create a system of EBM accountability; (v) establish a formal mechanism(s) for the review of IEA science; (vi) serve current management needs, but not at the expense of more integrative ocean management; (vii) provide a venue for EBM decision-making that takes full advantage of IEA products; and (viii) embrace realistic expectations about IEA science and its implementation. These tenets are framed in a way that builds on domestic and international experiences with ocean management. With patience, persistence, political will, funding, and augmented capacity, IEAs will provide a general approach for allowing progressive science to lead conventional ocean management to new waters.

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