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Sea and sky: Patagonian large marine ecosystem programme integrating continental shelf realities with deep-sea potentialities

C.A. Verona[334], C. Campagna[335] and J. Croxall[336]


Our core message in this paper is one of precaution: given the precedents, historical perspectives and current geopolitical contexts, the exploitation of fisheries resources in the southwest Atlantic should be contingent on the development of frameworks and models that incorporate precautionary, risk-assessment approaches to sustainable management, together with explicit attention to the needs of dependent and related species and to the minimization of risks to non target species, ecological processes and habitat. We believe that this approach, developed in a transparent fashion with reference to all stakeholders, is particularly vital to a region where conservation, management and politics are inextricably interlinked. In this paper, we develop these ideas, recollecting that the SW Atlantic Ocean, was, at least in the early 1990s and according to FAO, the only part of the Atlantic Ocean that had not yet been overfished.


2.1 Background

Sea & Sky (S&S) is our vision for the future of the Patagonian Large Marine Ecosystem (PLME) in the SW Atlantic. It aims at Large Marine Ecosystem management in a context of international cooperation between stakeholders. Our priority is to see the need for sustainable management of economic resources balanced by giving appropriate levels of protection to the wildlife, biodiversity and other conservation values of this rather little known - and increasingly imperiled - part of the global ocean.

2.2 Aims, rationale and geography (scale and boundaries)

We propose an environmentally sensitive management system be applied to a dynamic open-ocean area comprising the oceanographic regimes under the influence of the Falkland-Malvinas (F-M) Current. The implementation of priority-use zones and sectors under particularly precautionary management will reflect the variability in the productivity, according to the season and location of ocean fronts for an area 2 000 000 km2 (70 percent the size of Argentina). Its specific focus is the pelagic waters of the Patagonian shelf and slope connected to coastal and sub-Antarctic habitats by the Falkland-Malvinas current. This broad oceanscape is an epicenter of biological productivity that sustains just for coastal Patagonian breeders alone, more than 1 000 000 pairs of Magellanic penguins, 100 000 South American fur seals (Arctocephalus australis), 70 000 South American sea lions (Otaria flavescens (byronia)) and 50 000 elephant seals. Unless the resources on which these species depend are managed in sustainable fisheries using ecosystem approaches, the habitats of this system may become rapidly impoverished.

The rationale of the project is supported on the following assumptions:

i. The Patagonian seascape is a large threatened ecosystem not yet depleted past the point of no return.

ii. Nevertheless there are already serious signs of degradation and over-exploitation. Thus:

iii. There is a remarkable opportunity to improve the fate of this system of global significance.

2.3 Scope and early achievements

Sea and Sky is a multiple-phase, ‘umbrella’ programme that seeks to integrate scientific, technical, jurisdictional and socio-economic data and perspectives. Ecosystem approaches to sustainable management lie at the core of the programme. Zoning strategies are intended to delimit areas of precautionary management and use that reflect seasonal variation of the oceanography regimes that influence productivity.

In its technical aspects, the project so far reflects the collaboration of an international group of scientists that have contributed information, time and expertise to create the most comprehensive database available for the Patagonian Large Marine Ecosystem: 173 integrated datasets for 45 species of marine birds, 17 for marine mammals, 14 for fishes and four for squids, plus oceanographic and utilization information for the entire SW Atlantic. The data base contains more than 50 000 high-quality satellite locations for 11 marine bird and mammal species. The Landscape Ecology and Geographic Analysis Programme of the Wildlife Conservation Society processed and acts as curator for the information. Data are already leading to new awareness of interrelationships, such as a template based on robust physical regimes, as a basis for zoning exercizes.

2.4 Future steps

The next steps for the Sea & Sky programme are to: (a) strengthen and expand the scientific foundations, (b) begin collaboration with critical stakeholders (Government and fisheries) and (c), ensure programme institutional sustainability by creating an international alliance.

Strengthening scientific groundwork. The objective is to maintain an updated, comprehensive database with centralized management and geographical information systems (GIS) outputs available to stakeholders. Data will give technical support to zoning plans and facilitate the development of theoretical and practical tools to tackle conflicting positions.

Strategic planning to approach and recruit support from stakeholders. Pragmatically, the fate of the Patagonian Large Marine Ecosystem is in the hands of resource managers, especially of commercial fisheries. Additional but less urgent issues are related to oil and tourism industries. Coastal development with effects on the open ocean may also threaten ecosystem conservation. The complexity of the fishing industry, ranging from coastal artisanal to international commercial, demands a coherent strategic approach.

Ensuring programme sustainability. Sea & Sky will attempt to bring together national, international, government, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations together with specialists in the various disciplines. Its intention is to provide a scientifically based forum for developing and evaluating ecosystem approaches to management and for synthesising the results in operational terms. These mechanisms might range with the design and implementation of Marine Protected Areas and Fish Stock Assessment models incorporating temporal and spatial variability with extinction risk probabilities.


3.1 Future requirements

The future of the Patagonian Large Marine Ecosystem is partially dependent on the present administration of its economic resources, particularly those targeted by international fisheries. The perspectives are gloomy considering the collapse of most major world fisheries. The management crises that resulted from the failure of dominant paradigms has promoted the development of new tools, such as the concept of sustainability and the use of property rights in management of natural resources. But the need still remains to reformulate management and move from a traditional towards a more inclusive conservation paradigm. This section explores the origin of the prevailing views and reflects on future action.

3.2 The past: building up a plethora of institutions and organizations

The development of the current fisheries management paradigm (FMP) occurred during the twentieth century (Sinclair 1988). Its inception resulted from the merging interest in explaining catch variability with the development of models to interpret it (Kurlansky 1997). The basis of this conceptual development was an attempt to avoid fisheries collapses, while its most ambitious goal was to regulate fishing activity to optimize catch efficiency. A main reason that guided the onset of the paradigm was the demonstration that fishing could negatively affect resource availability and chances of recovery (Smith 1994). Once the first quantitative models that attempted to describe, explain and predict population dynamics and interaction were developed, the ecological perspective emerged as a competent and relevant approach to establish a theoretical framework for rational exploitation and management (Kingsland 1985).

The foundation of the current fisheries management paradigm (Hamilton, Duncan and Flanders 1998) resulted from the interaction among four endogenous variables: (a) Fish catch - the actual quantity of fish caught, both that landed and discarded; (b) Fish stock - the actual, but unknown size of the fish population of commercial interest; (c) Stock estimate - what assessment scientists or decision makers perceived about the size of the fish population; (d) Restrictions on catch - formal or informal controls intended to limit the catch. Both the estimates of the fish stock and the restrictions on catch shaped the "rules of the game", i.e. the institutions, and the creation of endless research and management organizations whose main task was to implement and run the system.

Implementation of the current fisheries management paradigm has involved the search for optimal solutions and along with this the development of the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) concept (Clark 1981). The estimate of MSY turned into the focal objective in natural resource management for many following years. A practical correlate of MSY in fisheries management was the determination of Total Allowable Catch (TAC), the level of catch intended to ensure the correct use of resources. The TAC-oriented approach is conventionally supported by the establishement of regulations and procedures, and monitoring, surveillance and control protocols. The MSY was the fundamental criterion that managers used in the decision making process, although the concept has suffered a progressive loss of theoretical and practical support for the concept (Larkin 1977) that eventually undermined its dominant role in the current fisheries management paradigm. A new discourse appeared in the fisheries management scene, which flowed from two main conceptural streams: (a) sustainable development (as the outstanding expression of policy goal); and (b) fisheries management based on property rights (as the competent instrument to reach that goal).

The emergence of sustainable development and quota management systems (QMS) allowed an evolution of the current fisheries management paradigm (Scott 1989). Nevertheless, and in spite of some achievements, criticism regarding the current fisheries management paradigm occurred from three perspectives: (a) judicial, given the common good character of fish resources, a conceptual difference is made between the right and privilege to fish (Connor 2000); (b) social anthropology, given the unintended effects of quota management systems (QMS), there is a concern about the uneven distribution of the profits and the threats to the permanence of fishing-dependent communities (McCay 2000); and finally (c), policy analysis, Government failures are assessed in terms of institutional limitations related to governance styles and management procedures (Symes 2000).

Scientists also voiced their concerns, pointing out the need to design ecology-based approaches, offering three main strategies to improve the limitations of the previous current fisheries management paradigm: (a) adaptive management (Walters and Hilborn 1976, Hilborn 1979, Smith and Walters 1981, Walters 1986, Fournier and Warburton 1989, Ludwig and Walters 1989), (b) fisheries administration based on ecological principles; and (c) management procedures (Donovan 1989, Magnusson and Stefánsson 1989, Kirkwood 1993, de la Mare 1996).

In spite of the efforts to improve the current fisheries management paradigm, an integration of fisheries and environment management objectives cannot be achieved until it is recognized that both essentially have the same objective, i.e. sustainable fisheries management goals are a subset of those regarding sustainable environmental management (Richardson 2000).

3.3 Present: rebuilding fisheries or reinventing management

The crisis affecting fish stocks mirrors the institutional crisis centred on the limitation and failures of fisheries management. The discourse that arose to overcome the traditional constraints and reinvention of fisheries management (Pitcher, Hart and Pauly 2001) was in response to two different and complementary frameworks: (a) sustainability and (b) property rights.


The ideological and institutional framework in which the concept of "sustainable development" is articulated, just as it is conceived and enacted in relation to the marine capture fisheries, comes from the United Nations Convention on Environmental Development, the Agreement on Biodiversity, and the adoption, in 1982, of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. The United Nations Commission on Human Environment elaborated the first guidelines towards sustainable development in Stockholm in 1972. The concept was a consequence of a development style based on unrestrained economic growth. In 1987, the Brundtland Report titled Our Common Future pointed out that sustainable development must "... meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

As overexploitation of fish stocks and impact on ecosystems contrasted with the goal of sustainable fisheries, in 1991 the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommended developing new management approaches that took into account environmental, social and economic goals. The process lead to the International Conference for Responsible Fishing (Cancun, Mexico, May 1992). Based on the Declaration of Cancun, and as a part of Agenda 21, the United Nations Conference of Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, June 1992). FAO (1996) promoted a Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries that was adopted on 31 October 1995. Since then, the precautionary approach and the design of procedures for better management have become key aspects of a sustainable development reference system.

Scientists have also attempted to analyse the impact of fishing on the ecosystem and promoted the adoption of ecological principles on the design of management models. Two outcomes of these concerns were the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) Marine Science Symposium on the Effects of Fishing on the Ecosystem (Montpellier, March 1999), and the Conference on Responsible Fishing in Marine Ecosystems (Reykjavik, October 2001). The aims of the Montpellier meeting were to develop a synthesis of the effects of fishing on the marine ecosystem, to develop new methodologies to quantify these effects and to provide a forum for discussion about the integration of conservation goals within the fisheries management. The objective of the Reykjavik Conference was to articulate the necessary ecological principles in a scheme of fisheries management, identifying challenges and strategies for the future. It is noteworthy in this context that the 4th World Fishing Conference (Vancouver 2004) aims to reconcile fishing and conservation, as the main challenge for the management of the aquatic ecosystems.

Property rights

The establishment at the end of the 1970s of fisheries management systems based on property rights has been one of the most revolutionary events in the history of fisheries (Neher, Arnason and Mollett 1989). Since the beginning, quota management systems (QMS), based on individual transferable quotas (ITQ) have elicited support and criticism. Support came from economic frameworks, whereas criticism was mainly derived from social perspectives(Apostle et al. 1998, National Research Council 1999).

Successful application of QMSs assumes the occurrence of several essential conditions that are often absent. A heterogeneous group of scientists with diverse positions on this subject, including anthropologists, sociologists, lawyers, biologists, economists and fisheries managers, met in Fremantle (Australia, November 1999, see Shotton 2000). They concluded that the use of a QMS includes both the chances to reach intended goals, such as the reduction of fishing capacity and the appearance of unintended consequences, such as the increase of marginality caused by capital concentration.

Thus far, Iceland and New Zealand are the only two countries to make a significant comprehensive move from traditional fisheries management models to a QMS. In both cases the experience seems to have been successful, nonetheless some criticism persists. Implementations have been carried out in other places (e.g. Australia, Canada, The United States, Estonia, Holland and Chile) and a transitions toward quota regimes is occurring. However, most countries and management organisations persist with the old paradigm.

3.4 Future: rhetoric stagnation

Although it seems that an appropriate conceptual framework is available to guide actions towards responsible fishing, there is a chronic incapability (lack of political will or means) to effectively address the major problems of massive or selective bycatch, excess fishing capacity, irreversible degradation of habitats and steady loss of populations and species.

The policy support to overcome the fisheries crises is readily available, as stated by Gislason et al. (2000):

"Within the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, nations accepted an obligation to consider the impacts of their policies on marine ecosystems [...]. This obligation has been restated by the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and by many recent policy documents worldwide. It no longer suffices to focus on the sustainable yield of the target species itself; the impacts of fishing on the structure and functioning of the ecosystem have to be considered as well [...] We assume that such objectives will include the maintenance of biodiversity and of habitat productivity. The challenge to science is to reach consensus on indicators and reference points that will support decision making on ocean-use activities that threaten biodiversity and habitat productivity [...] There is a need to enhance the conservation objectives of fisheries-management plans to include explicitly ecosystem considerations."

Likewise, Sainsbury, Punt and Smith (2000) noted that:

"Fisheries management has historically focused on achieving objectives that relate to the well-being of commercially harvested species and the associated fishing industry, but there is now an increasing trend to consider broader, ecosystem-orientated objectives as well [... including] recovery of endangered species, effects of fishing on species and habitats impacted incidentally by fishing or as bycatch, preserving the food supply for other marine predators, maintaining biodiversity at all biological levels (e.g., genetic, species, habitat, community), and maintaining ecosystem integrity and resilience."

Despite the fact that the above statements leave no doubts as to what must be done, changes in management of the oceans that take into account biodiversity conservation are modest. The current fisheries management paradigm rationale is such that conservation initiatives are placed in a disadvantageous position to exert their influence. From a conservation perspective, fide Agardy (2000)

"...the solution is not to shut down fisheries but rather to modify the type of management, and use public awareness to help raise political will for taking responsibility for the conservation of marine systems [...] Without decision-makers taking more responsibility for fisheries management and habitat protection, fisheries and marine biodiversity will be permanently compromised."

But even conservation intentions constrained to simple common sense often have to struggle with minor principles and goals in an attempt to balance the priorities of major interests and find avenues through which to advance partial limitations of fishing activity. This scenario maintains the status quo in fisheries management, which leads to the inability to overcome recurrent crises on the traditional fishing grounds.

FAO (1999) endorsement of a sustainable development reference system, integrating environmental, social and economic indicators reflects a tendency that will lead towards strengthening government plans and fisheries management strategies. The policy for the implementation of ecologically sustainable development for fisheries and aquaculture in Western Australia is an example of a framework compatible with the guidelines noted above.

The underlying problem, however, continues to be that a perfect market supposes the existence of a perfect Government (Weimer and Vining 1992). In practice, solutions to market or Government failures, including those related to fisheries capture, depend on the formulation of corrective public policies. As an alternative, the balance should be shifted from favouring exploitation goals to favouring conservation processes (e.g. fishing simply as a part of ecosystem function and tolerated within limits appropriate to the multiple goals inherent in maintaining healthy systems).

3.5 Lessons to be learned

Implementation of an ocean conservation paradigm must address the fact that any attempt to come up with a sustainable administration of nature must be founded in the best traditions of ecology. Precedents in this field show that to deal with ecological complexity and uncertainty one needs appropriate models and tools. The built-in uncertainty of complex systems demand an alternative standpoint in hypothesis testing, raising the need to have robust models oriented towards minimizing Type II, instead of minimizing Type I, statistical errors (Hall 1999).

Management should promote sustainability through the preservation of resilience as an intrinsic ecosystem feature to guarantee the maintenance of a stable topology compatible with system structure and function. The precautionary principle within this approach would involve preserving those characteristics that strengthen biodiversity and ecosystem integrity rather than establishing a precise maximum catch or a reference value above which the biomass of a target species should be kept (Peterson, Allen and Holling 1998). It would be a sensible move to shift from a management model biased towards commercial fishing, with the prevalence of concepts of efficiency and income (the current fisheries management paradigm), towards one that recognizes broader potential values of the ocean under ecological principles (OCP).


4.1 Conceptual background

Better management decisions would result by changing the emphasis from models that minimize Type I errors, to those that build "robustness" i.e. that associated with minimizing Type II errors (Steel and Torrie 1980). Robust models seem to be a sounder basis for predictions than those focused on statistical power (Wimsatt 1980). The Sea & Sky programme may represent an opportunity to apply this rationale to a valuable and still relatively well-preserve oceanscape.

4.2 Power versus robustness - Strategies in model building

In ecology, the interface between theory and reality has always been controversial. Thus, the strategy of adopting models to deal with ecosystem complexity and uncertainty has been much debated. Doubts were specifically centred on the extent results depended on essential properties of the models or on the simplifying assumptions introduced when they were created. Just as epistemologists recommend working with more than one alternative hypothesis, ecologists propose reducing the range of doubts by applying diverse, alternative models to deal with the same problem. Differences between models could then be the results of simplification in the context of maintaining supporting biological assumptions. The quality of the models then remains indissolubly linked to the convergence of the obtained results, because this convergence is an assurance of model "robustness" (Levins 1966).

These statements lead to an essential property relevant to the construction of ecology models: robustness is a characteristic linked to the consequences of the models but not to their intrinsic nature. Acknowledging that no model can reflect all the complexity of an ecological system, the state of the art in ecosystem modelling has developed in three main directions: (a) generality, (b) realism and (c) precision. Since no model can maximize all its objective functions simultaneously, it is necessary to relinquish some features to improve the rest. Thus, by sacrificing generality, bio-economic models would gain precision and realism. Otherwise, as it occurs with, e.g. predator-prey models, sacrificing realism improves generality and precision. For example, MacArthur and Levins being less concerned with precision, improved the realism and generality of their models, which gave them a notable flexibility compared with the limitations in the Volterra-Lotka models, but which came from the lack of realism in their assumptions (Kingsland 1985).

4.3 The rationale behind the paradigms

Management of the SW Atlantic poses a challenge to sustainable initiatives. The lack of strong coherent fisheries management throughout the SW Atlantic enhances opportunities for fleets of distant countries to undertake illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The need to improve this situation is complicated by the underlying jurisdictional conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom, which hampers the development of new solutions. Against this background, the Sea & Sky programme advances the precautionary scheme of considering the Patagonian Large Marine Ecosystem within the conceptual umbrella of environmentally sensitive or marine protected areas and management principles and practices evaluated and proposed by an alliance of organizations representing relevant stakeholders.

One of the most sensitive and difficult questions to agree upon has been the shared vision of success beyond the ambit of coalitions and the prevalence of their internal interests (Bryson 1995). Sea & Sky proposes an Alliance for the Conservation of the SW Atlantic Ocean in which management occurs at the level of large marine ecosystems. Such a central framework will promote the integration of economic, social and environmental principles of the sustainability with the values that arise when ethical and aesthetic perspectives are taken into consideration.

4.4 Synthesis and reflective remarks

i. We gathered to consider an expansion of our frontiers of development in a context of uncertainty. The advance may take place despite the fact that some problems of present development do not have apparent solutions, and the technical tools available may not suffice to cope with the consequences of ecosystem degradation. To minimize the "tragedy of unavoidable consequences" we should limit the extent of the potential damage. This common sense claim may have a weak voice but it has many merits.

ii. A potential starting point to discuss new expansions in the frontiers of use should be the revision of the conceptual models that have so far been underlying strategic decisions. We must recognize that by introducing paradigm biases, observers do not enrich the reality but their subjective image of it, further conditioning their thoughts and decision-making and interpretative behaviour.

iii. Fisheries worldwide are going through a crisis partially due to the criteria that dominated use and management of resources in the ocean. If the sector hesitates to replace those models responsible for the crises, the opportunities to move forward will be few and the repertoire of potential solutions are constrained.

iv. The above global concerns underlie the ecosystemic approach to management of the SW Atlantic that is the Sea & Sky programme.


We thank the organizers, particularly Dr. John Annala, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Refundar (Argentine Foundation for Responsible Fishery) and Redes (The Argentine Magazine for the Fishing Industry) for making possible the participation of one of us (CV) at Deep Sea 2003.


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[334] Wildlife Conservation Society
Centro Nacional Patagónico (CONICET)
U9120ACV Puerto Madryn. Argentina
[335] Centro Nacional Patagónico (CONICET)
Puerto Madryn, Chubut, Argentina
[336] British Antarctic Survey
High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK
[337] This report complies with UN formal designation of the Archipelago in public documents written in English as Falkland Islands (Malvinas). See A/AC. 109/2002/16 <>.

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