Modeling the Complex Human-Environment Interactions of a Coral-Reef Fishery

EPA Grant Number: U916169
Title: Modeling the Complex Human-Environment Interactions of a Coral-Reef Fishery
Investigators: Shafer, Jennifer L.
Institution: University of Hawaii at Honolulu
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: January 1, 2003 through January 1, 2006
Project Amount: $73,937
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2003) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Geography , Academic Fellowships , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


The objective of this research project is to explore the challenging problems of coral-reef fishery management in Hawaii through an agent-based model (ABM) that simulates the complex human-environment interactions of a coral-reef recreational fishery.


Hawaii's coral reefs have great ecological, economic, and cultural significance, but unfortunately, the reefs are in a state of decline. Unsuccessful management of coral reef resources, particularly fisheries, arises from inadequate management tools and information, conflicting management objectives, and lack of enforcement. A fundamental challenge in fishery management is how to address the natural complexity of resource problems, which typically involve complex interactions along both ecological and social dimensions. Resource managers require insights into complex human-environment interactions such as the factors that drive choices and behavior among resource users (e.g., conflict, laws and regulations, and customary norms). ABMs offer potential for studying complex system behavior and human-environment interactions, and for exploring tradeoffs among multiple conflicting resource-use objectives. The ABM will be composed of three interacting components: (1) the coral-reef ecosystem modeled according to the biophysical characteristics of the coral reef; (2) the human-resource users modeled as recreational agents involved in fishing and diving; and (3) the manager who controls the type and degree of regulation of human activity on the reef. The dynamic ecosystem model will simulate the effects and tradeoffs of changing specific controlled and uncontrolled parameters (e.g., management decisions or natural processes) on performance of the fishery system (e.g., fish abundance, species diversity, coral cover, fishing opportunity, and fisher behavior). In particular, the effects of establishing no-take zones or marine fishery reserves and the factors affecting fisher compliance will be explored. Marine reserves offer potential for managing complex, multispecies, tropical-reef fisheries. Empirical evidence shows that by closing designated coral-reef areas to all fishing, marine reserves allow protection of spawning-stock biomass and critical habitat. How these closures affect the dynamics of human-resource users is still uncertain, but with fishing rules greatly simplified, marine reserves may be more cost effective to administer and more enforceable than traditional fishery-management regimes. Management policies that integrate ecosystem objectives and the social incentives and disincentives (and thus behaviors) of its human users are more likely to succeed. Simulation can provide insight into the potential consequences of alternative policies so that the costs of implementing an ineffective policy can be avoided. The results of this research project will help policymakers test scenarios for the effects of certain policy decisions, thus playing a constructive role in policy formation and science-based management of marine reserves in Hawaii.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, coral reef, Hawaii, HI, fishery, human-resource user, agent-based model, ABM.

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2003
  • 2004
  • Final