Science Advisory Report 2012/060
Assessing the Effectiveness of Fish Habitat Compensation Activities in Canada: Monitoring Design and Metrics
- To report on their operational activities, DFO Habitat managers must evaluate the adequacy of fish habitat compensation projects in accomplishing the intended management goals. To assess the success of these habitat compensation works or activities in achieving the expected result, three broad categories of monitoring tools are available; ‘effectiveness’ monitoring; ‘functional’ monitoring, and ‘compliance’ monitoring.
- Due to demanding data collection methods and scientifically-defensible analyses, effectiveness monitoring for habitat compensation projects is essentially a science-based activity, requiring a standardized, transferable design. The metrics (or indicators) for effectiveness monitoring must measure productive capacityFootnote 1 or fish based surrogates of productive capacity. Effectiveness monitoring is particularly important for complex projects expected to have a large impact on fish and fish habitat.
- Functional monitoring is a scaled-down assessment of habitat compensation effectiveness. It is quantitative, but relies on surrogate information to assess changes in productive capacity (e.g., change in macrophyte density or amount of a substrate type). At a minimum, data collected for functional monitoring must be able to account for net habitat loss or gain (i.e., by unit area of a particular habitat).
- At a lower intensity of effort, a well-designed functional monitoring program can yield valuable information that feeds into the assessment of the Habitat Management program as a whole. A higher intensity of effort of functional monitoring will produce a diminishing rate of return on investment. In contrast, at a lower intensity of effort (i.e., poorly designed, shorter-term, surrogate metrics), an effectiveness monitoring program will yield little value. For an effectiveness monitoring program to achieve its goals, a high intensity of effort will often be required.
- Compliance monitoring is an operational activity conducted by either DFO Habitat Management or Compliance and Enforcement staff. It is used to determine whether the terms and conditions prescribed under a Fisheries Act authorization have been implemented. As such, compliance monitoring is not a focus of this report.
- The systematic effectiveness monitoring of these habitat compensation activities can be broadly based on the types of fish habitat as defined in the Fisheries Act (i.e. “spawning grounds and nursery, rearing, food supply and migration areas on which fish depend directly or indirectly in order to carry out their life processes”).
- Regional benchmarks of habitat productivity (at the fish population or community level) for specific habitat types should be scientifically established. Such a system of Regional benchmarks could be used as a tool to help set appropriate management goals and thereby to evaluate the effectiveness of compensation activities.
- Evaluating the effectiveness of habitat compensation via a Before-After/Control-Impact (BACI) study is among the most statistically robust monitoring techniques. Temporal and spatial controls (i.e., before data and data from other comparable sites, namely the BACI design) are often but not always advisable when designing a monitoring plan. Controls, when properly chosen and utilized, tend to improve the precision of the estimate of change, and reduce the likelihood of incorrectly attributing natural environmental patterns in time or space to the compensation action. Determining the appropriate design type and level of replication to provide a statistically robust study is non-trivial in all but the simplest cases. Expert statistical and biological assistance will therefore almost always be advisable.
- In addition, various habitat modeling techniques are also available to predict the potential environmental effects of habitat compensation (at the watershed or ecosystem scale). They may be used to test scenarios of site suitability, predict limiting factors, or to direct compensation monitoring strategies and provide information within a decision-making framework. However, models come with assumptions and can make it more difficult to assess the validity of the results. Complex models should be avoided unless there are sufficient resources to thoroughly evaluate the approach and assumptions.
- Effective monitoring also requires well-designed and proactive data management methods in order to summarize habitat quantity and quality. Data management and geomatics tools (i.e., geospatial decision-support tools) can provide support for effectiveness monitoring by storing and integrating data over various scales (spatial and temporal).
- Currently in Canada, habitat compensation activities are assessed and implemented at the site scale. Use of standardized data collection, assessment and reporting methods are required to examine cumulative effects from anthropogenic influences at the appropriate scale where habitat impacts have the potential to cause broad-scale, ecosystem-level changes. Within DFO, the consideration of cumulative effects is both a science and management function, and compensation monitoring conducted with appropriate guidelines would provide valuable data to inform both these roles.
- Similarly understanding the average effect of different compensation types would well inform managers as to the value of various activities. For example, expressing the average amount of productive capacity produced per unit lost (or dollar spent, or unit gained, etc.) by habitat type would allow science and management to assess the mean and variability of the effectiveness of different approaches (in different conditions), greatly improving the knowledge to feed into future compensation decisions.
- A framework for a scientifically defensible effectiveness monitoring program is presented as advice to Habitat Managers (see Appendices for ‘Table of Contents’ for each of the five habitat types / life history stages as defined in the Fisheries Act.) The steps listed in the Appendices will require an accompanying DFO Technical Report (i.e. Canadian Technical Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences) with further details on methodologies and supporting information.
This Science Advisory Report is from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, National Advisory Meeting, December 6-8, 2011, at Ottawa, ON regarding Monitoring Design and Metrics to Assess the Effectiveness of Habitat Compensation Activities. Additional publications from this process will be posted as they become available on the DFO Science Advisory Schedule.
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