Synthesis of linkages between benthic and fish communities as a key to protecting essential fish habitat
Several essential fish habitats lack the protections necessary to prevent degradation because of failure to integrate the scientific disciplines required to understand the causes of the degradation and failure to integrate the fragmented state and federal management authorities that each hold only a piece of the solution. Improved protection of essential habitat for demersal fishes requires much better synthesis of benthic ecology, fisheries oceanography, and traditional fisheries biology. Three examples of degraded habitat for demersal fishes and shellfishes are high-energy intertidal beaches, subtidal oyster reefs, and estuarine soft bottoms. In each case, both scientific understanding of and management response to the problem require a holistic approach. Intertidal beach habitat for surf fishes could be protected by constraints on the character of sediments used in beach nourishment and restriction of nourishment activity to biologically inactive seasons. Subtidal oyster-reef habitat for numerous crabs, shrimps, and finfishes could be protected and restored by reduction of nitrogen loading to the estuary and elimination of dredge damage to reefs. Estuarine soft-bottom habitat for demersal fin- and shellfishes could also be protected by reduction of the nutrient loading of the estuary, which could prevent associated problems of nuisance blooms and low dissolved oxygen. Although a broad general understanding of the nature of habitat degradation exists for each of these three examples, the interdisciplinary science needed to sort out the separate and interactive contributions of all major contributing factors is incomplete. Adopting the holistic approach embodied in the principles of ecosystem management sets a course for addressing both the scientific inadequacies and the management inaction.