Tundi's Take: Can we have our fish and eat them, too?

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

By Tundi Agardy, Contributing Editor, MEAM. Email: tundiagardy [at] earthlink.net

It was so good to see Jake Rice's candid letter in the last MEAM. Anything that sparks dialogue about motivations for, expectations of, and limitations inherent in EBM is good for our community, disquieting as it may be to have to put all of our cards on the table.

Fundamentally I think the scenario that Jake provocatively posed (a collision of biodiversity conservation and food security) is a false one. Because if we undermine nature, we will have no way to feed ourselves, hence biodiversity conservation and food security go hand in hand. But Jake does force us into an uncomfortable but necessary reality check. Without very clear communications about the intentions of policy and management, marine managers delude the public and may be haunted by the consequences.

This is why the visioning phase of EBM is so crucial. Many of us disdain this step as unscientific - a politically correct box to check off in a log frame, a paragraph to insert in a final grant report. And I think it is fair to say that many government agencies view visioning as "here's our vision, and this is why you should like it." We need to be much more robust about goal-setting, making it truly participatory, and we need to be much clearer and more honest about what EBM could, and cannot, achieve.

If we take visioning seriously and enter into future planning with a commitment to honesty, we will have to keep two adages in the back of our minds. The first: "You can't please all of the people all of the time." Anyone who casts EBM as a universal win-win is a liar, a politician, or a naive idealist - and has no business being a planner or manager. And second: "Be careful what you wish for." Unless we grow up and think through the future consequences of our interventions, and state what we know clearly and without hesitation, we may be in for some nasty surprises - such as a future without fish, or a productive ocean that lies helpless in supporting our burgeoning masses.

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