Ecosystem based management is today the foundation of international regulatory frameworks for managing the oceans and seas. The approach enables sustainable use of marine goods and services while maintaining good environmental status and preventing subsequent deterioration. However we lack holistic models capable of supporting ecosystem based management decision-making. Standard methods for regulatory risk assessment are based on precautionary principles and worst case assumptions. Although these methods are useful for environmental management and risk mitigation they have limited value in ecosystem-based management approaches where comparative risk/benefit assessments are essential. Advanced models are needed that simulate in more realistic detail the marine biosphere and allow prediction of actual potential impacts and uncertainty intervals instead of worst-case risks only.
To resolve this problem, an international consortium of petroleum industry partners has established a project to develop an integrated modeling framework for ecosystem based impact assessments of the marine environment. The framework is initially being developed for applications in the spatially managed area of the Lofoten/Barents Sea to address the combined effects of fisheries and petroleum activities. The region is rich in petroleum resources and is also a key spawning and egg/larval drift area for several important North Atlantic commercial fish species. This integrated modeling framework includes an ecosystem and ecotoxicology module, which integrates existing ecosystem models for adult fish, fish eggs & juveniles, phyto- and zoo- plankton, chemical fate and ecotoxicology. Here we describe the model system and development process and show how such approaches are of value toward providing stakeholders with more quantitative information on the environmental risks and benefits of petroleum development activities in potentially contentious areas.