One of the mandated charges to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is to facilitate the coordination of Great Lakes fishery management across jurisdictions. To do this, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission organized annual lake committee meetings among Great Lake fishery professionals since 1964. Our objective was to describe the role of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission in facilitating communication among fishery jurisdictions that fueled the development of ecosystem-based management principles in the basin. Meeting minutes from lake committee meetings and publications from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission-facilitated Salmonid Community of Oligotrophic Lakes workshop were coded based on 12 a priori ecosystem-based management principles. Meeting and workshop attendance data were analyzed through a bipartite network analysis (organizations connected to meetings) to determine if attendance at meetings were grouped, or clustered, within the fishery governance network. No significant clusters were detected, demonstrating that during 1970-75 fishery professionals in Great Lakes were cooperative in nature – in contrast to the prior half century where little cross-jurisdictional management was reported. Our analyses based on meeting attendance and coded discussions at the meetings demonstrated that three ecosystem-based management perspectives were discussed prior to 1972 (ecological integrity, hierarchical context, and humans embedded in nature) whereas discussions at lake committee meetings from 1972-74 and the Salmonid Community of Oligotrophic Lakes workshop influenced discussions about data collection, ecosystem boundaries, and hierarchical context at lake committee meetings in 1975. The Great Lakes Fishery Commission played a bridging role in facilitating communication among Great Lakes jurisdictions. These annual meetings were becoming a forum for professionals to collaboratively discuss fishery management issues, thereby advancing ecosystem-based management principles throughout the basin. Ultimately discussions at lake committee meetings helped contribute to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and allied fishery management organizations agreeing to manage Great Lakes fisheries under ecosystem-based management through the ratification of A Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries in 1981.

Introduction

The development of ecosystem-based management (EBM) principles prompted a shift in natural resource management plans, which historically, were primarily designed for single-sector management practices and thus often implemented without success (McClanahan et al., 2015; Long et al., 2015). Changes in natural resource management paradigms are often difficult to accomplish, and the more revolutionary in nature they are, the more resistance they initially encounter due to institutional inertia (Rotmans et al., 2001). For EBM plans to become established, organizations need to support new management practices that lead to the development of interjurisdictional and interdisciplinary communication and collaborations. These relationships are characterized as an “institutional ecosystem” that can collectively address the causes of environmental disturbances at multi-dimensional, ecosystem-based scales under EBM (Imperial, 1999).

Fishery management in the Laurentian Great Lakes basin expanded from an insular approach to a collaborative approach during the 20th century. Prior to the 1940s, fishery management agencies in the Great Lakes basin were focused on developing single species fishery management programs within their jurisdictional boundaries (Gaden et al., 2013). Cross-jurisdictional meetings were sporadically occurring, but jurisdictions continued to promote protecting their sovereignty rather than the fishery itself (Gaden, 2007). The invasion of the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) and concurrent demise of valuable Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) fisheries during the 1950s highlighted the urgency for an interjurisdictional approach to restore the health and sustainability of Great Lakes fisheries (Muir et al., 2013).

After more than 20 attempts to craft acceptable, regulatory binational fishery treaties proved unsuccessful, the U.S. and Canada signed a non-regulatory fishery treaty that established the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC; United States and Canada, 1954; Gaden et al., 2013). The GLFC was created for three purposes: 1) create and develop an eradication program for the invasive sea lamprey, 2) coordinate fisheries management to support fisheries of common concern, and 3) advance research to sustain the preceding responsibilities. A strength of the GLFC is its mandate to facilitate collaboration across jurisdictions in the Great Lakes basin. As preexisting, sporadic, cross-jurisdictional meetings were losing traction due to senior officials no longer attending, the GLFC requested senior staff attendance at the newly formalized, GLFC-facilitated annual lake committee meetings (GLFC, 1965; Gaden, 2007). Initially, the lake committee meetings were primarily information sharing forums (Gaden et al., 2013). However, continued participation of senior staff allowed for greater interactions and development of trust needed to collaboratively develop management programs to rehabilitate the Great Lakes (Gaden, 2007).

Ecosystem-based management concepts became more prominent during the 1970s in the Great Lakes basin in response to increased awareness of relationships between anthropogenic pollution, water quality, fish contamination, and human health (Christie et al., 1986; Guthrie et al., 2019). The first natural resource policy document in the Great Lakes basin to formally include an ecosystem-based approach to management was the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (Imperial et al., 1993; GLWQA, 1978). The 1978 GLWQA was a revision of the 1972 GLWQA after the International Joint Commission (IJC) Great Lakes Research Advisory Board (now the Science Advisory Board) and a University-Seminar Committee recommended a more holistic ecosystem-based approach to rehabilitate the then severely degraded Great Lakes ecosystem (Francis et al., 1979). The 1972 GLWQA initiated a pivot point for natural resource management in the basin as the management paradigm began shifting towards EBM (Guthrie et al., 2019). In contrast to the 1972 GLWQA, the 1978 GLWQA explicitly included the Great Lakes ecosystem and watershed under the purview of the Agreement, and defined the Great Lakes ecosystem to include humans – a substantial shift from single species or single resource management paradigms at the time (Christie et al., 1986; Imperial et al., 1993; GLWQA 1978). In contrast to the 1978 Agreement, the 1972 Agreement was primarily focused on point-source pollution and improving Great Lakes water chemistry (Botts and Muldoon, 2005). Ultimately, the limited scope of the 1972 Agreement resulted in ineffective water quality management in the basin (Francis et al., 1979) and a missed opportunity to link fishery production to aquatic habitat.

In the 1970s, fishery practitioners were calling for fishery management to be integrated with water quality management. Norm Baldwin, then GLFC Executive Secretary, said in the 1970 Lake Erie Committee that the GLFC needed to work with the IJC to better integrate fish and water quality management (GLFC, 1970), demonstrating the forethought of the GLFC in linking basin-wide ecosystem processes with fishery production and management. In 1977, the IJC and GLFC agreed to develop a holistic approach to Great Lakes fishery and aquatic management (Francis et al., 1979). A year later, the 1978 GLWQA formally demonstrated the countries’ commitment to cross-jurisdictional, interdisciplinary collaboration for aquatic resource management and integration of humans and ecosystems as one system (GLWQA 1978). Jointly and independently, the IJC and GLFC were facilitating more holistic management plans in the 1970s.

The development of EBM principles for Great Lakes fishery management was additionally supported by the findings presented in the Salmonid Community of Oligotrophic Lakes (SCOL) workshop (Loftus and Regier, 1972). This workshop was conceptualized by Henry Regier and Ken Loftus in 1968 and hosted by the GLFC and its partners in 1971. Attendees used European and North American oligotrophic lakes as study replicates to assess anthropogenic stressors on salmonid communities, notably those from fishing practices, eutrophication, and nonnative species (Loftus and Regier, 1972; Regier, 2013). Throughout the 1970s, Great Lakes fishery scientists were working, communicating, and developing a more holistic understanding of the Great Lakes by better characterizing the form and function of lakes in response to different stressors and management regimes.

Our objective herein was to describe the role of the multi-jurisdictional GLFC in facilitating cross-jurisdictional collaboration among fishery professionals that ultimately supported the development of EBM principles for Great Lakes fisheries. To understand how EBM principles were developed before formal implementation of the 1978 GLWQA, we focused on the fishery governance network during 1970-75, the years surrounding the pivotal 1972 GLWQA as its ineffectiveness, due to its limited scope, stimulated changes in natural resource management perspectives in the basin towards a more holistic, ecosystem approach.

The GLFC is mandated to serve as a multi-jurisdictional coordinating body for Great Lakes fishery management; therefore, we expected the fishery governance network to consist of a single cluster (i.e. one group) as assessed through network analysis of lake committee meeting and SCOL workshop attendance data. A single cluster would indicate that there were few or no barriers to information flow and would be consistent with the principles of EBM (Grumbine, 1994) as one cohesive cluster would support the flow of information among jurisdictions. Because the 1970s were the beginning of an environmental shift in North America, we expected there would be a change in the proportion that EBM principles were discussed over time in GLFC-facilitated meetings. Additionally, we expected that an organization’s exposure to discussions about EBM principles via lake committee meetings and SCOL would be associated with that organization’s statements at later meetings, meaning that these meetings were influential in the evolution of EBM in the basin. Understanding the foundation and the environment that fostered EBM development in the basin in the preliminary stages of the shift towards EBM, can thus provide insights into the fundamental processes and potential barriers to current and innovative future EBM implementation in the Great Lakes basin.

Methods

Data collection

To identify natural resource management agencies and GLFC representatives (e.g. Commissioners, Secretariat) participating in the GLFC fishery governance network during the development of EBM principles, we recorded meeting attendance based on lake committee meeting minutes from 1970-75 (n= 30 meetings) and workshop attendance through SCOL publication authorship (n= 33 publications). Attendance data were collected as a bipartite (2-mode) network. In a bipartite network, there are two different classifications of nodes (i.e. organization and meeting) and there are links (ties) between the two node classifications, and no links within the node classifications (i.e. organizations are only connected to meetings, organizations are not connected to organizations). Organizations’ co-attendance at meetings provide an opportunity for information to flow among organizations. An organization attending the meetings or workshop was defined as a management agency, university, or a GLFC representative. In total, the GLFC fishery governance network from 1970-75 was comprised of 46 organizations and 31 meetings.

We selected these six years (1970-75) for analysis to assess the development of EBM because our objective was to focus on the years surrounding the 1972 GLWQA to assess how EBM principles developed in this decisive time. The 1972 Agreement was critical as it has been depicted as the key legislation that initiated management review which led to the understanding of the need for EBM. Unfortunately, the data necessary (e.g. meeting minutes) to evaluate network structure prior to the formation of the GLFC lake committees in 1964 do not exist. Therefore, conclusions regarding network structure, collaboration, and cooperation among the jurisdictions prior to our study period are limited to published accounts (e.g. Gaden et al., 2013).

Ecosystem-based management principles discussed at the meetings were assessed via content analysis of the meeting minutes and SCOL abstracts. Content analysis is a systematic method used to capture principles in documents by using code rules (i.e. preset topics) to classify document themes (Rourke et al., 2001). Lake committee meeting minutes (792 pages) and SCOL publication abstracts (33 abstracts) were coded using 12 a priori defined literature-based principles of EBM: (1) adaptive management, (2) data collection, (3) dynamic ecosystems, (4) ecological boundaries, (5) ecological integrity, (6) hierarchical context, (7) human values, (8) humans embedded in nature, (9) interagency cooperation, (10) management evaluation, (11) organizational change, and (12) sustainability (Grumbine, 1994; Christensen et al., 1996a; see Appendix 1 for definitions). These 12 principles were selected from Grumbine et al (1994) and Christensen et al. (1996) for document coding as they encapsulated most published definitions for EBM. Individually applying one or a few of the principles would not indicate EBM but adapting all principles to the ecosystem indicates EBM as each principle address a different aspect underlying EBM.

Two researchers independently coded a subsample of statements (n = 100) extracted from lake committee minutes and SCOL publication abstracts and the results of each researchers’ findings were compared to determine reproducibility of the code rules. Cohen’s Kappa, a rigorous test that accounts for probability of agreement due to chance, evaluated coding reliability (Cohen 1960). In our analysis, Cohen’s Kappa was calculated to be 0.652, above the “substantial” agreement benchmark (Landis and Koch, 1977); therefore, data coding was considered reliable and was used to determine the frequency that EBM principles arose in these meetings during the formative years of EBM development.

Individuals were assumed to be speaking as representatives for their organization and statements were attributed to their organization. When the speaker was recorded in the meeting minutes, the coded statement was linked to the organization of the speaker, and SCOL publications were linked to the organization(s) of the publication author(s). Coded discussions reflected an organization’s views about the 12 principles of EBM during the study period.

Network analysis

We used Kliquefinder software (Frank, 1995) to assess the presence of clusters (i.e. highly connected subgroups) in the GLFC governance network. Kliquefinder iteratively optimizes network data to maximize links (i.e. ties) within clusters and to minimize links among clusters to determine if there are subgroups within the network (Frank, 1995). Cluster optimization is determined by the log odds ratio (Θ1), as explained in Frank (1995). The significance of the original Θ1 is assessed through simulations where the data are randomly re-arranged and new theoretical clusters are optimized, producing a sample distribution of Θ1s based on the data collected (Frank, 1995).

For each meeting, each organization was weighted by its number of representatives attending a meeting, as it was assumed that the more representatives that an organization sent to the meeting the more the organization was exposed to meeting content. Cluster analysis of the GLFC governance network was performed based on bipartite meeting attendance data from individual years (1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, and 1975) and data pooled across the study period (1970-75) to assess the organizational relationships through and across time. Visualization of the networks were conducted using the igraph package in R (Csardi and Nepusz, 2006; R Core Team, 2017). The statistical significance of clusters (significance-level of 0.05) was assessed by comparing the cluster optimization value of the data, Θ1, to the distribution of simulated cluster optimization values (n = 1,000; Frank, 1995).

Modeling ecosystem-based management discussions

The proportion that each of the 12 EBM principles was spoken, per meeting was determined by the frequency that each principle was stated divided by all statements made. Repeated Measures Analysis of Variance (RM-ANOVA) was used to assess changes in the proportion that each principle was discussed (IBM Corp., 2012; Gotelli and Ellison, 2012). Data were arcsine transformed to meet normality assumptions. Sphericity was not assumed (i.e. variances were not equal based on Mauchly’s Test of Sphericity, p < 0.05; IBM Corp., 2012), therefore Wilks’ Lambda was used to assess significance of RM-ANOVA (Gotelli and Ellison, 2012). Each of the five Great Lakes was assessed individually, resulting in five RM-ANOVAs, as described in Appendix 2.

Discussions among organizations at the lake committees and SCOL were assumed to reflect fishery management concerns and decisions. The extent that an organization prioritized each EBM principle was determined based on the standardized frequency that the organization stated each EBM principle during the lake committee meetings and SCOL. Frequencies were standardized based on meeting duration to account for varying meeting lengths to aid in comparisons across years.

To assess the effect of: 1) management perspectives established prior to 1972, 2) discussions at lake committee meetings from 1972-74, and 3) discussions at the SCOL workshop on statements made in the 1975 lake committee meeting minutes, we developed models using attendance data and content analysis data from lake committee meetings and SCOL publication abstracts. The models assessed the extent that an organization’s statements made during lake committee meetings in 1975 were related to management perspectives prior to 1972 and their attendance of – and therefore exposure to these ideas from discussions during – lake committee meetings in 1972-74 and/or the SCOL workshop. For each organization, the frequency that an organization stated each EBM principle in 1970 and 1971 was assumed to reflect their baseline management perspectives prior to 1972. If an organization sent representatives to attend the lake committee meetings or SCOL, the organization was exposed to discussions about EBM principles and a higher frequency of discussions per principle relates to higher exposure for that principle. Ecosystem-based management principles were modeled independently and a Bonferroni correction was used to assess the significance of model coefficients (Bonferroni-adjusted p-value of 0.00416; Neyman and Pearson, 1928). Standardized frequencies were averaged for each organization, per lake, as the data were collinear across years. The network model is described in Appendix 2.

We recognize that other factors not in our models may create spurious estimates and inferences. The first most likely explanation is that organizations with particular orientations chose to be present at meetings where those orientations were reinforced. This is known as a selection effect in the network literature (see Frank and Xu, forthcoming). To adjust for possible selection due to prior orientation, we controlled for each organization’s orientation prior to 1972 based on statements made in meetings from 1970-71. If the prior attitude is the only basis of selection, then estimates from our models will be unbiased (Frank and Xu, forthcoming).

Results and discussion

No significant clusters within the fishery governance network were found in individual years or across the study period (1970-75). Clusters did not differ (p > 0.05) from one another when the optimized Θ1 value was compared to a distribution of Θ1 values based on Monte Carlo simulations for 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1970-75. No clusters were detected when the network data were optimized for the years 1970, or 1975 (see Appendix 3 for diagrams). As no significant clusters were detected through our study, there was no barrier to information flow among fishery jurisdictions within the basin from 1970-75. The lack of clusters demonstrates that organizations in the Great Lakes basin were not grouped based on lake, organization type (e.g. federal, state), or nationality, and thus organizations were exposed to each other through the fishery governance network. When present, clusters within a network can be barriers to collaboration as clusters indicate limited communication among groups (Bodin and Crona, 2009). Not all agencies attended all lake committee meetings as attendance was generally based on jurisdictions involved in that lake. Numerous organizations had jurisdiction in multiple lakes (e.g. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) and attended multiple lake committee meetings within a year. Therefore, there were outlets for communication among the different lake committee meetings as evident by the lack of clusters within the fishery governance network. In contrast, if all fishery management organizations were only focused on one lake and not multiple lakes (and therefore the organizations would only attend one lake committee meeting per year) clusters would likely have been detected and thus there would have been barriers to the flow of information among organizations.

As evident through the absence of clustering and the lack of sustained, coordinated fishery management prior to establishment of the GLFC (Gaden et al., 2013), we conclude the GLFC largely acted as a bridging organization that was instrumental in hosting sustained meetings, which facilitated the links between science and policy across jurisdictions, as is necessary for EBM (Hahn et al., 2006; Berkes, 2009). The GLFC meetings promoted data sharing, conflict resolution, and knowledge transfer across Great Lakes fishery management agencies (GLFC, 1981). Song et al., (2019) further supports the central role of the GLFC as a “hub” or “broker” through their facilitation of successful interjurisdictional communications. Collaborative arrangements, such as the lake committee meetings, fostered the development and spread of knowledge at ecologically relevant (not politically relevant) scales necessary for EBM. The role and the success of the GLFC was due to its collaborative and non-jurisdictional agency role and that its process respected each jurisdictions’ management authorities (Gaden, 2007). Institutional relationships can either hinder or support cross jurisdictional, cross disciplinary decision making that is crucial for effectively managing social-ecological systems (Garmestani et al., 2008). Our results indicate that the GLFC supported the development of institutional relationships and information flow across jurisdictions. The GLFC meetings facilitated communication that became effective collaboration, which lead to the development of EBM for Great Lakes fisheries. The lake committee meetings provided attendees the opportunity to thoroughly discuss and develop a collective perspective of the status and future needs of fishery management programs that would enhance the ecological status, health, and fishery among all five Great Lakes.

Collaborative discussions at lake committee meetings and the support of GLFC leadership were precursors for future higher-level agreements, such as A Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries (hereafter Joint Strategic Plan; GLFC, 1981), that ultimately supported the development of and outlined EBM for fisheries management in the Great Lakes basin (Gaden et al., 2008, 2013). Many lake committee members recalled that the meetings initially were used to share information and standardized stocking protocols, rather than develop cross jurisdictional regulations or management objectives (Gaden, 2007), yet these meetings laid the important and necessary foundation for more advanced interjurisdictional and interdisciplinary management programs. A primary contribution of the early lake committees is the “development of a cooperative outlook for the region” and this extensive history and expectation of continued cooperation are principle reasons that collaborative fishery management continues today (Gaden et al., 2013). Successful coordination and cooperation is dependent on trust among parties, which has been shown to depend on informal communication (e.g. sharing lunch) and formal communication (e.g. attending meetings) in the Great Lakes basin (Song et al., 2019). These principles have driven and maintained the strong social agenda for GLFC meetings, allowing attendees to better understand each other’s needs and perspectives, professionally and personally. Although attendance at lake committee meetings and SCOL was voluntary, the GLFC requested senior fishery management agency representative attendance (GLFC, 1965; Gaden, 2007), which created an annual forum for senior staff across jurisdictions to develop collaborative protocols that incorporated EBM principles in fishery management programs throughout the basin.

The lake committee meetings (1970-75) and SCOL (1972) were expected to drive changes in the Great Lakes fishery management philosophy, resulting in a change of proportions that the principles were discussed. However, the proportion that each EBM principle was discussed, for each lake, did not change during the study period (p > 0.01, Bonferroni adjusted p-value for all RM-ANOVAS). Even though there was no change in the proportion each principle was spoken over time, not all principles were discussed equally. For each lake, all principles were ordered (high to low) based on the average proportion each principle was discussed; the top four principles with the highest average proportions were categorized as high priority, the next four principles were categorized as medium priority, and the last four principles were the least discussed and categorized as low priority (Table 1). The EBM principles related to data collection, and management evaluation were the most often discussed and were thus considered high priorities among all lakes. The prioritization of data collection and management evaluation demonstrates that lake committee meetings were being used as a forum to share data and evaluate management programs. At this time, fishery management organizations were becoming aware of the need to strategically develop holistic cooperative fishery management programs, which ultimately lead to the development of the Joint Strategic Plan, a formalized EBM plan for Great Lakes fishery management (Gaden, 2007; Gaden et al., 2008). The sharing of data collection and management evaluation does not indicate that organizations were collaborating in management decisions at that time, but that routine discussions about data collection and management evaluation were occurring among senior staff from multiple jurisdictions for each lake. The high priority principles indicate which principles were discussed first among the 12 EBM principles, and thereby were foundational before other principles developed. For example, data collection (a high priority principle) presumably occurs before dynamic ecosystems (a low priority principle) as data are needed prior to assessing the system dynamics. Because we can look back in time, knowing that EBM was formalized in the 1978 GLWA, we can assess the order that EBM principles developed before the formalization of an EBM management plan. The discussion about data collection and management evaluation indicate progress towards collective cross-jurisdictional reflection on science needs for fishery management practices. As further evidence of the importance of data collection at this time, state and federal agencies (e.g. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, United States Geological Survey) began conducting surveys of Great Lakes fisheries in the late 1960s and 1970s (Ludsin et al., 2001; Madenjian et al., 2008).

Overall, the extent that an organization discussed data collection, ecological integrity, ecosystem boundaries, hierarchical context, and humans embedded in nature at lake committee meetings in 1975 was significantly related to attitudes towards fishery management discussed prior to 1972, and an organization’s attendance of lake committee meetings (1972-74) and SCOL (p < 0.004, Table 2). As the 1970s were a critical time for the environmental movement in North America, these meetings were not solely responsible for exposing the organizations to changes in environmental perspectives, but the meetings were an important outlet for discussion and collaboration that augmented the environmental movement. The attendance at lake committee meetings and SCOL exposed the organizations to certain EBM principles, and our models indicate the influence of the meetings on an organization’s discussions for certain EBM principles in 1975. Being exposed to new principles over time is critical as repetitive exposure from network members, or peers, can lead to the adoption of new concepts (Valente, 1996).

Prior to 1972, organizations discussed the EBM principles: ecological integrity, hierarchal context, and humans embedded in nature. These three principles were discussed in lake committee meetings from 1970-71, and this prior knowledge continued to influence discussions at lake committees in 1975 (p < 0.004, Table 2). Ecological integrity was a factor driving EBM conceptualization, as researchers during the 1970s were realizing the interrelationships of ecosystem components, such as the influence of the watershed on water quality of the lakes and its impact on fisheries production and thereby societal well-being (Baumann and Whittle, 1988). Lake committee meeting discussions during this time demonstrated attendees understood the relationships between humans and the environment by linking changes in fisheries to impacts on Great Lakes basin communities and fishers. Mercury contamination and water pollution (e.g. polychlorinated biphenyl, PCB) were major concerns in the Great Lakes region during the early 1970s, which resulted in occasional fishery closures and consumption advisories (Bhavsar et al., 2011; Hudson and Ziegler, 2014). To combat water quality degradation and improve ecosystem integrity, federal policies were enacted in the U.S. and Canada (An Act to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act., 1972; Booth and Quinn, 1995), highlighting the relatively new understanding of the linkages among water quality with human health.

Discussions about data collection at lake committee meetings in 1972-74 significantly influenced discussions in 1975 (p < 0.004, Table 2). The lake committees were beginning to be more strategic in the deployment of resources (Gaden et al., 2013) and thus data collection was necessary to assess and improve fishery management plans. The influence of the three years prior to 1975 indicates that agencies were reviewing and discussing data needs and collection protocols for more informed fishery management programs. Our analyses indicate that many lake committees were beginning to collaborate as interagency cooperation was a high priority for Lakes Erie and Huron, and it was a medium priority for Lakes Michigan and Superior (Table 1). In the 1960s and 1970s, the lake committees were often focused on sharing information rather unifying management plans (Gaden et al., 2013), and the high prioritization of data collection for all lakes supports our interpretation that the meeting focus of the early lake committee meetings was on data sharing rather than the explicit development of collaborative interjurisdictional management programs. Discussions at the lake committees prepared the jurisdictions for collaborative management through the creation of trust, as trust is needed prior to collaborative management.

Lake committees were used as a forum to facilitate communications from the GLFC to the IJC ultimately better linking fishery and water management authorities in the Great Lakes basin. In the 1970s, Lake committee attendees were aware that fisheries were often excluded from federal and state water quality regulations. For example, during the 1972 Lake Ontario committee meeting, attendees suggested that the GLFC submit recommendations to the IJC to include fishery concerns in water quality regulations (GLFC, 1972). Moreover, Ken Loftus was appointed as a GLFC Canadian Commissioner in 1972 and was appointed to the IJC Water Quality Board in 1974 (GLFC, 1974) which helped facilitate the flow of information between these two entities. Additionally, Loftus was a key organizer for the SCOL workshop. As such, Loftus’ simultaneous active participation in the IJC and the GLFC, and his forethought – as evident by his role in creating and coordinating SCOL – enabled him to develop a unique perspective and helped bridge the divide between the two Commissions.

The SCOL workshop ultimately reinforced the need for, and the development of EBM in the Great Lakes basin for productive and sustainable fisheries. Discussions at SCOL about ecosystem boundaries were impactful as the organizations that attended SCOL, in turn, influenced discussions about ecosystem boundaries at lake committee meetings in 1975 (p < 0.004, Table 2). The focus of SCOL was to assess the impact of anthropogenic stressors (i.e. fishing practices, eutrophication, non-native species) on salmonid communities and discuss possible remedies that would rehabilitate these communities and their lake environments (Loftus and Regier, 1972; Regier, 2013). Prior to the 1960s, there was considerable debate among research scientists on the reason for fishery stock decreases and collapses: fishing pressure or environmental degradation (Bocking, 1997). The SCOL workshop integrated effects of multiple stressors and demonstrated the need to improve environmental conditions, decrease overfishing, and mitigate nonnative species effects. Importantly, multiple views were represented at the workshop as researchers from a variety of disciplines related to fisheries and aquatic systems from within and outside the Great Lakes basin were invited to participate in this transformative workshop (Stevenson, 1972). The workshop had a different role in the GLFC governance network as SCOL focused on research and management evaluation rather than implementation of new management programs. Although SCOL proceedings did not adopt all EBM principles, the proceedings from SCOL provided evidence that a more holistic approach to Great Lakes management was needed. The two EBM principles that were most advanced by SCOL, as evident by our models, were ecosystem boundaries and hierarchical context. The effect of these two principles coincides with the need to understand environmental degradation and its boundaries (e.g. non-point source pollution) and species population dynamics and hierarchical food webs (e.g. nonnative species, and fishing effects). Thereby, SCOL provided a forum for researchers to convene to develop transferable ecological theories across lakes.

The lake committees became the focal point for an ecosystem-based approach to fishery management through the Joint Strategic Plan that was established in 1981 (GLFC, 1981) but other factors were also important in driving fishery management towards EBM. In 1977, the Great Lakes Basin Committee (defunct since 1980) and the GLFC requested the fishery management agencies develop a strategic plan for basin-wide fishery management (Gaden et al., 2013). A steering committee convened in 1978 to develop an ecosystem approach to fisheries management plan (GLFC, 1981; Gaden et al., 2013). In addition, the Joint Strategic Plan was created in response to concerns about possible U.S. federal intrusion into Great Lake fishery management due to the passage of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976, and concerns that fishery management planning in the Great Lakes was considered inadequate (Gaden et al., 2013). Ultimately, the lake committees became key forums for jurisdictions to enact the Joint Strategic Plan, thus maintaining authority within the Great Lakes jurisdictions.

For ecosystem-based management to be sustained, the institutional ecosystem needs to adjust as new paradigms and knowledge develop (Hahn et al., 2006). In response to fishery management needs, the GLFC established other committees, reflecting the adaptability and evolution of the GLFC. The Council of Lake Committees (i.e. lake managers from each jurisdiction) was created in 1979, technical committees and sub-groups with membership from each jurisdiction were established to support each lake committee through the Joint Strategic Plan in 1981, and the Council of Great Lakes Fishery Agencies, consisting of fish chiefs from each jurisdiction, was created in the 1997 revision of the Joint Strategic Plan (GLFC, 1981, 1997). The GLFC, as the body tasked to facilitate the coordination for fishery management in the Great Lakes, recognized the need to adapt their coordination role as new information and new collaborations were established, and as the fishery context evolved.

Robustness of inference

To quantify the robustness of our inferences to potential omitted variables we report how much bias in the estimate must be present to invalidate the inference (Table 2; Frank et al., 2013; Rosenberg et al., 2018). The minimum inference reported was 29% for SCOL on hierarchical context, which is approximately in the median of those reported by Frank et al (2013) for observational studies. Moreover, we note that controlling for the prior orientation (based on statements made in 1970-71) regarding hierarchal context, accounted for 0.3% of the estimate of the effect of SCOL on hierarchal context. Correspondingly, an omitted variable would have to be approximately 96 times more powerful (29% compared to 0.3%) an alternative explanation as prior disposition to invalidate our inference. These calculations thus provide confidence regarding the robustness of our inferences in this study.

Conclusions

The GLFC and its lake committees supported the evolution of Great Lakes governance networks by facilitating the flow of knowledge among natural resource jurisdictions. The flow of knowledge across jurisdictions is evident in our analysis as we detected significant relationships of discussions about EBM principles from lake committees in 1970-71, in 1972-74, and from SCOL on discussions in lake committee meetings in 1975. The jurisdictions were connected to each other through mutual attendance at these meetings and they were able to discuss fishery management concerns at the lake committee meetings. Currently, there are more GLFC-facilitated committees (e.g. Council of Lake Committees) than existed in 1975 that support collaborative Great Lakes fishery management. Therefore, the meeting structure is different now than it was during the 1970s and provides evidence of the adaptability of the GLFC. The GLFC reformed its role as a bridging organization by the development of multiple collaborative committees and the Joint Strategic Plan. The GLFC assisted in establishing a functioning and adaptable “institutional ecosystem” that was necessary for EBM to be implemented (Imperial, 1999).

Organizations that facilitate natural resource management should work to make lasting, long-term changes that are evident in governance networks. The evolution and forethought of the GLFC meeting structure reflects its flexibility and prominent role in facilitating communication among Great Lakes jurisdictions (Song et al., 2019). Fishery management coordination was a foundational principle behind the establishment of the GLFC, and the collaboration among jurisdictions eventually catalyzed a paradigm shift towards an EBM approach. Coordination allowed for management plans to address challenges in a collaborative, holistic and interdisciplinary manner; thereby providing the responsiveness and relevance needed for the success of such organizations and EBM.

Acknowledgements

The authors thank Betsy Riley for her support in developing reproducible document code rules. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments, which considerably improved the manuscript. This paper is Contribution No. 3800 of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, William & Mary.

Supplementary material

Supplementary data for this article can be accessed on the publisher’s website.

Funding

Research was supported by the Michigan State University Graduate School.

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