Definition

Federal policy has shifted from a single species approach to one that looks at entire ecosystems. Ecosystem management integrates scientific knowledge of ecological relationships within a complex social and political framework. It extends the immediate goal of protecting the environmental requirements of existing aquatic animals to the long-term conservation of healthy aquatic systems and species biodiversity.

As a lead federal agency entrusted with developing an ecosystem approach to fish and wildlife conservation, the Service must meet the challenge of maintaining healthy aquatic systems. Ecosystem management broadens the scope of resource management that requires teamwork to include many disciplines, a wide range of perspectives, and expertise to utilize sound scientific principles.

The Fish Health Program recognizes the need for redirection of natural resource programs, personnel, and facilities toward supporting ecosystem management. Fish Health plays a key role in monitoring, evaluating and protecting the health of all aquatic animals within an ecosystem whether it relates to restoring depleted populations of animals or the recovery of threatened and endangered species.

Value

While the Service Fish Health Program will continue to monitor and inspect for infectious diseases of cultured fishes, more resources will be directed toward wild populations. Aquatic animal health programs will address a wide range of variables that affect the health of wild and cultured populations including physiological and genetic characteristics, pathogen presence and host susceptibility, nutrition, water quality and physical habitat requirements.

As fish health biologists become involved in the ecosystem teams, they will develop techniques for many aquatic animals that will include wild or cultured fish, shellfish, and other freshwater, marine, or brackish aquatic animals. Utilizing a comprehensive aquatic animal health philosophy, fish health biologists will employ many disciplines to examine a broad range of health issues, including artificial propagation, restoration, and protection programs within a watershed to understand how these factors influence the overall health of animals within a system.

Benefits

When fully implemented, this program will ensure services and expertise to protect the health of aquatic animals and their environments. It will improve the quality and productivity of public and private aquatic animal resources and enhance knowledge and awareness of public and private aquaculturists on all aspects of aquatic animal health.

The ecosystem approach promotes partnerships and direct contact with hatchery managers, resource biologists, refuge managers, tribes, states, and others during all stages of watershed management. This interaction among parties provides greater understanding and exchange of information leads to sound decisions for the long-term benefit and protection of aquatic resources.