Healthy marine ecosystems in North America that support sustainable use is the Marine Conservation Initiative’s goal. We envision a working seascape, where the ocean provides food, jobs, and recreation without sacrificing the health of the ecosystem. We believe that aligning incentives with conservation will achieve lasting protection for fish populations and ocean ecosystems. To accomplish these goals, the initiative funds a portfolio of tools and projects within two primary strategic themes: Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and Reforming Fisheries Management (RFM). Under each strategy, the initiative and its grantees strive to build diverse and broad constituent support; promote durable policies, governance mechanisms, institutions, and financing; and support science synthesis, monitoring tools, and technology.
Theory of Change
The initiative is built on a Theory of Change that aligns social and economic incentives with conservation outcomes. Two strategies, MSP and RFM, target the systemic drivers that degrade ocean habitats and deplete marine fisheries. To implement its Theory of Change, the initiative employs a “practice-based” approach, beginning with an evidence-based assessment of potential conservation solutions to understand the spectrum of possibilities. This is followed by piloting the proposed conservation solution in a specific place, to develop best practices and demonstrate measureable marine conservation outcomes. Finally, strategic communications and policy approaches expand the reach of the lessons from each place. Throughout, the initiative invites and seeks to incorporate multiple perspectives—including tribes, environmental organizations, industry, and government—in developing and implementing durable solutions.
The initiative and its partners support mutually reinforcing activities in three target geographies in the U.S. and Canada–specifically in British Columbia, the U.S. West Coast, and New England. Each strategy, in each geography, can also yield a positive conservation or field-advancing outcome independent of the other strategies and geographies. The initiative mitigates risk and actively facilitates the diffusion of ideas and tools by working both “bottom-up” (states, provinces, and regions) and “top-down” (nationally in U.S. and Canada, trans-nationally on science and communications).
The initiative is not only striving for effective implementation of MSP and RFM in the near-term, but also for lasting durability of outcomes as evidenced by secure policies and processes for engagement; effective agency structures and institutional ownership; long-term participant and stakeholder buy-in; robust monitoring systems; and sustainable financing mechanisms. In addition, the initiative strives for greater integration of the two strategies in the places where we work.
A closer look at comprehensive Marine Spatial Planning
At its core, Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is an approach to guide intensity and location of ocean uses in a way that integrates human use and conservation. Its strength comes from focusing on and addressing the impacts of the entire suite of activities occurring in a specific place, balancing human uses with conservation of the ecosystem to facilitate appropriate and smart use of the ocean. The initiative funded the first Step by Step Guide to MSP, published by UNESCO in 2010. Through literature review and collective experience, the initiative and its grantees have identified critical elements of good MSP to guide future investment.
Work is now underway to bolster existing MSP pilots (Massachusetts and British Columbia) and catalyze momentum for new MSP programs driven by local and regional demand.The initiative supports projects aligned with the 2010 U.S. Ocean Policy that help the initiative’s target regions and the National Ocean Council meet key milestones. These include the creation of new regional planning bodies, a national ocean data portal with regional modules, and an established process for public engagement and resolving user conflicts. Investment in the social sciences helps engage a broader group of stakeholders, such as ports, tribes, and local officials, in order to represent their economic and social interests in MSP. Work in Canada offers the opportunity to stretch MSP from sea to land in the Marine Planning Partnership for the North Pacific Coast (MaPP), with First Nations and provincial governments playing a lead role.
A closer look at Reforming Fisheries Management
The strategy to Reform Fisheries Management (RFM) works to shift fisheries management from a reactive, command and control structure to a performance-based system. One important element of RFM is “catch shares” – programs that allocate a portion of the total catch to individuals or communities – to meet conservation targets by promoting ecosystem-based catch limits, better monitoring of catch, and gear modifications to reduce bycatch. Centered on New England and West Coast groundfish management, as well as federal guidance and policies, the RFM strategy aims to make new programs work better for fishermen, be effective at meeting other stakeholder and conservation goals, and endure over time. The initiative and its grantees also support effective and efficient monitoring; observation and data management systems; demonstrations of innovative practices and structures such as Community Fishing Associations (CFAs) and permit banks as a way to address community needs and encourage conservation under catch shares; and strengthening the broader fisheries management system in which these fisheries operate in both the U.S. and Canada.