Expanding the Fisheries Management Tackle Box: A Multiple-Model Approach to Support Better Decisions

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Marine fisheries provide critical ecosystem services but face an array of stressors like climate change and overfishing. Managing fisheries is challenging due to limited information and the need to make complex tradeoffs among ecological and social objectives. Decision processes that include integrated social-ecological models and equitable stakeholder engagement are increasingly recognized as approaches to improve the likelihood of achieving management goals compared to those that rely solely on stock assessment models with limited stakeholder input. Additionally, advanced technologies offer new opportunities to understand marine ecosystem dynamics, including human behavior. This research adds two examples of underutilized tools: multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) and agent-based models (ABMs). In the first case, I compared management recommendations for the Chesapeake Bay oyster fishery arising from A) stakeholder engagement using group negotiations and B) preferences elicited from individuals using an MCDA approach. The recommendations were consistent across methods, suggesting that group effects did not bias group negotiation outcomes. The second case investigated New England groundfish reporting behavior based on stock dynamics, quota markets, and fishery observer coverage. First, having an observer onboard was found to significantly reduce the probability and magnitude of reporting error (ie., an observer effect) using a linear mixed effects model of data from vessel trip reports and remote vessel monitoring systems. Next, an ABM was used to explore emergent responses to policy changes - varying levels of observer coverage and the strength of the observer effects - on fish catch, reporting error, and profit outcomes, given fisher interactions and responses to fish population dynamics. Scenarios with strong observer effects resulted in increasing marginal improvements in reporting accuracy at high levels of observer coverage. MCDA and ABM can contribute to a multiple-model approach by allowing fisheries managers to integrate diverse stakeholder perspectives and use additional data sources that could lead to better fishery outcomes.