2008 Annual Report
Gulf of Maine Research Institute

Spotlight on Science

Investigating Interdependence: Coupled Natural and Human Systems

The Gulf of Maine is a dynamic ecosystem with many linkages between species, including humans, but our fisheries are typically managed individually. Interactions between herring, lobsters, groundfish such as cod and haddock, and humans date back hundreds of years, yet are not fully understood. GMRI is leading a collaborative effort to take a new approach to unraveling the ecological and economic links among these three fisheries to inform future management decisions.  Funded by the National Science Foundation, the researchers investigate many different aspects of the relationships among these organisms throughout their lives. They will use the data to build a better understanding of the dynamics between these fish, as well as to make predictions about their populations for the future.

Photo by Stephen Karpiak

Photo by Steve Karpiak

One aspect of the project explores how much lobsters depend on eating the herring used as bait in lobster traps (yes, many lobsters escape after their meal!). The research team also examines the influence of predation by groundfish on lobster populations and behaviors. They look at the impact of environmental conditions, such as temperature and wind, on larvae and juveniles to find commonalities among three species. Economic analysis illuminates the financial aspects of interdependency of the three fisheries and how management decisions in one fishery might affect the viability of the others. 

The next step is to bring together data from each area of the study to create an integrated computer model of the three fisheries.  Scientists hope to use this model to predict how a range of potential natural fluctuations, climate change impacts, and shifts in human behavior could ripple through all three fisheries.
GMRI scientists and collaborators hope that this signature project will lead to integrated, ecosystem-based management in the future. 

Scientists will not be the only participants in this project—5th and 6th grade students from all over Maine will also study the relationships in the Gulf through GMRI’s LabVenture! program. Students will explore the impact that humans have had on the Gulf of Maine ecosystem over the last 100 years in an interactive, hands-on learning experience. They will investigate the effects of fishing, how humans have affected the predator-prey relationships and potential impacts of a warming ocean on food webs.  Like scientists, students will develop and test hypotheses, conduct experiments and take on the challenge of understanding the complex systems at work in the Gulf of Maine. 


  • Andy Pershing, GMRI Ecosystem Modeler and University of Maine Research Assistant Professor
  • Graham Sherwood, GMRI Demersal Ecologist
  • Jon Grabowski, Northeastern University
  • Jeffrey Runge, GMRI Biological Oceanographer and University of Maine Research Professor
  • Lewis Incze, University of Southern Maine Research Professor of Environmental Science and Policy
  • Dan Holland, NOAA Fisheries Economist
  • Yong Chen, University of Maine Professor of Marine Sciences
  • Guillermo Herrera, Bowdoin College Associate Professor of Economics
  • Alan Lishness, GMRI Chief Innovation Officer
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