Using Ecosystem-Based Management as an Adaptation Strategy in the Pacific Fishery Management Council

Created: 4/29/2010 - Updated: 3/02/2020


The Pacific Fishery Management Council examines the impacts of climate change on fisheries management through an ecosystem fishery management plan, finalized in April 2013. Among other things, this plan considers the impacts of climate change on fisheries.


The Pacific Fishery Management Council has five fishery management plans (FMPs) for groundfish (e.g., rockfish, flatfish, roundfish, sharks and skates); salmon (e.g., Chinook and coho); highly migratory species (e.g., tunas, sharks, swordfish, mahi mahi); Pacific halibut; and coastal pelagic species (e.g., anchovy, market squid, Pacific sardine, Pacific and jack mackerel, krill). Climate change is considered as an ancillary element to these FMPs; although it is not clearly distinguished as a specific threat to fish stocks, the Council's efforts reduce fishing as a stressor on the marine ecosystem. The Council engaged in a seven-yearlong process to develop an ecosystem-based approach to managing fish stocks in the offshore waters of Washington, Oregon, and California. Ecosystem-based management as defined by the Council “recognizes the physical, biological, economic, and social interactions among the affected components of the ecosystem and attempts to manage fisheries to achieve a stipulated spectrum of societal goals, some of which may be in competition.” An ecosystem Fishery Management Plan, therefore, considers species interactions (i.e. predator-prey food web dynamics), habitat, fishing effects on stocks and habitat quality, elements of uncertainty and utilizing precaution where possible, and the effects of other stressors, including climate change, on fish biology and ecology. The development of this plan allowed the Council to consider various natural and anthropogenic elements that may affect conservation and fishery productivity.


The Council first voted to create Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) in November 2006. Development was delayed until funding could be obtained; by 2009, the Council had financial support from NOAA to create a plan that would supplement the existing FMPs, “[help] with coast-wide research planning and policy guidance, and [create] a framework for status reports on the health of West Coast ecosystems” (PFMC EBM Overview). The Council created two groups: the Ecosystem Plan Development Team (EPDT) and the Ecosystem Advisory Subpanel (EAS). The EPDT was composed of 13 members, including policy analysts and scientists from state, federal, and tribal governments. The EAS was composed of 11 members, representing industry, policy, and conservation interests from the states and tribes. The EPDT and EAS were charged with developing goals and objectives for the EFMP. Their specific tasks were to collate state-of-the-science information on ecosystem-based management, review existing FMPs for examples of ecosystem-based management, find tools that could be used in the development of the FEP, and review other ecosystem-based management efforts from the other Fishery Management Councils. In April 2013, Council members formally adopted the current FEP.  

Outcomes and Conclusions

The FEP was designed to be iterative to adjust as better scientific information becomes available. Annually, the Council reviews the plan, discusses emerging issues, and assesses priorities; every five years, the FEP is scheduled for a comprehensive review. Climate drivers listed as priority issues for the Council include the effects of interannual and decadal variability (e.g., El Niño Southern Oscillation [ENSO], Pacific Decadal Oscillation [PDO]), temperature, pH, oxygen, and upwelling. Although the FEP is not prescriptive in nature, it will be used as a strategic planning document to introduce elements of ecosystem-based management to the Council’s program and plans incrementally.


Information collected through interviews and publications. Last updated August 2016

Project File (s)

Pacific Fishery Management Council Fishery Ecosystem Plan PFMC White Paper on EFMP Development – April 2007 Summary of PFMC proposal for developing an ecosystem management plan – June 2007 Pacific Coast Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the U.S. Portion of the California Cur… Ecosystem Initiatives Appendix (March 2015)


Gregg, R. M. (2010). Using Ecosystem-Based Management as an Adaptation Strategy in the Pacific Fishery Management Council [Case study on a project of the Pacific Fishery Management Council]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated August 2016)


Scale of Project
Multilateral / Transboundary
National / Federal
Regional / Subnational
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Culture / communities
Fishery harvest
Habitat extent
Invasive / non-native species, pests
Ocean acidification
Oxygen concentrations (hypoxia)
Sea level rise
Species of concern
Water supply
Water temperature
Climate Type
5-10 years
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate climate change into harvest/take policies
Incorporate climate change into critical habitat rules / species recovery plans
Incorporate climate change into environmental impact statement (EIS) requirements
Reduce non-climate stressors
Capacity Building
Conduct / Gather additional research, data, and products
Taxonomic Focus
Other Invertebrates
Sociopolitical Setting
Effort Stage