Science Advisory Report  2012/044

Risk-based Assessment Framework to Identify Priorities for Ecosystem-based Oceans Management in the Pacific Region


  • The ecological risk assessment framework (ERAF) reviewed in this process supports the identification of risks and threats to valued ecosystem components (VECs) as a guide for the development of objectives, strategies and actions and it is a necessary component for the implementation of DFO’s ecosystem-based integrated oceans management in the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) and Pacific Region Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
  • The ERAF builds upon methodology from existing ecological risk assessment frameworks, but it is specifically tailored for the goals and purposes of ecosystem-based management in Pacific Region. The ERAF improves on existing risk assessment frameworks by taking an ecosystem-based approach rather than considering individual issues in isolation, and can communicate a broader view of anthropogenic impacts and risks singly or cumulatively to VECs.
  • The ERAF is endorsed as suitable for identifying, and assessing the relative risk of harm to VECs from human activities and their associated stressors, and for ranking the significance of activities and stressors based on the relative risks to VECs in support of ecosystem-based integrated oceans management in the PNCIMA and Pacific Region MPAs.
  • The ERAF focuses on VECs of ecological significance (not social or economic) and uses pathways of effects (POE) models to identify mechanistic linkages between human activities and stressors impacting VECs.The development of a library of activity-based POE models to facilitate future applications of the ERAF is recommended. A modular risk assessment methodology is applied to determine single and cumulative risk of harm to VECs, and ultimately, rank stressors/VECs based on single and cumulative risks. It also assesses the relative risk to ecosystem properties and provides methods for explicitly capturing and reporting uncertainties in data quality.
  • Use of the ERAF is expected to facilitate the communication of the relative risk of ecological consequences of anthropogenic stressors on VECs, ranking of those risks, and discussion of acceptable levels of risk to VECs.
  • The ERAF does not identify the most appropriate management responses to risk(s) or the societal costs and benefits associated with managing ecosystem risks nor does it provide a probabilistic assessment of absolute risk at the first two risk assessment levels.
  • The ERAF explicitly considers uncertainty in communicating risk scores at different stages, since clear documentation of uncertainty informs interpretation of these scores and may inform management strategies and actions.
  • It is recommended that outputs from the initial application of the ERAF to PNCIMA or MPAs in Pacific Region be reviewed by a future CSAP process to assess the performance of the framework with respect to transparency, consistency, compatibility, and repeatability.
  • It is expected that knowledge gaps and data uncertainty will be a challenge when the ERAF is initially applied in terms of both structural components (e.g., scoring metrics, cumulative risks, assumptions related to the nature of biological effects, the recovery time of ecosystem components) and biological data inputs (e.g., lack of spatial/temporal data for some species, habitats, communities). Modifications to the ERAF will be needed to address these challenges, but these modifications cannot be precisely specified in the absence of experience in applying the framework.
  • Development of the ERAF was guided by best practices and recommendations from risk assessment processes in other countries and risk frameworks developed within DFO for other purposes. This Pacific Region ERAF may be useful in informing a future national process as DFO implements ecosystem-based management.

This Science Advisory Report is from the May 8-10, 2012 Regional Peer Review meeting reviewing Working Paper 2012-P46 on Risk-based Assessment Framework to Identify Priorities for Ecosystem-Based Oceans Management in the Pacific Region. Additional publications from this process will be posted as they become available on the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Science Advisory Schedule.

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