Big-picture modelling to help inform marine management trade-offs in the North Sea

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Resolving and quantifying trade-offs between competing marine stakeholders requires a fusion of spatial marine socio-economics and ecology. This is a long-standing vision but a difficult task because the disciplines have different supporting theories and systems of measurement. Conceptual and statistical models can only take us so far in identifying the trade-offs emerging from implementation of e.g., marine protected areas or offshore renewable energy systems, because they struggle to adequately incorporate feedbacks. However, the traditional bottom-up approach of building models from process understanding risks creating unwieldy behemoths. The present need may be for more big-picture, but still essentially process-based, models to stimulate trans-disciplinary discussion and debate. We should be able to identify the major ecological and human structural elements of the system in such models, but the detailed ‘nuts and bolts’ can be represented by aggregated parameterisations.

Here we present a fusion of the existing StrathE2E big-picture model of marine ecological dynamics (, with a new big-picture model of the dynamics of fishing activity and distributions. The drivers for the fishing model are management conditions (e.g. allowable fishing mortality rates) and economic variables – ex-vessel prices of catches and variable and fixed cost items depending on fishing patterns including social constraints. Outputs, which are a dynamic balance between the functioning of the ecology and the economically viability of fishing activities and distributions, include natural ecology indicators, revenue flows and profitability measures, employment, pay rates, and CO2 emissions. The combined system takes only seconds to run, enabling extensive scenario analyses. We illustrate the model with an exploration of the system-wide consequences of expanding the space occupied by marine reserves and offshore wind infrastructure in the North Sea, relative to a 2003-2013 baseline.
Period13 Sept 2023
Event titleInternational Council for the Exploration of the Sea Annual Science Conference
Event typeConference
Conference number2023
LocationBilbao, SpainShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • modelling
  • ecology
  • economiccs
  • social
  • trade-offs
  • MPA
  • offshore wind
  • North Sea