Conceptual Models for Ecological Risk Assessment and Risk Management: Investigating a potential Nile tilapia introduction
In the next five years, population growth, depletion of natural fisheries, and climate change are expected to put increasing pressure on the food security and livelihoods of people living in developing nations. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) are among the most vulnerable to decreased food security. One way to mitigate this pressure is to create freshwater aquaculture operations. However, there are concerns that aquaculture could also result in significant ecological harm, particularly through the escape and establishment of introduced species and effluent release from aquacultural practices. The purpose of this project was to apply Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA) to decisions relevant to food security in Solomon Islands. Specifically, we created a conceptual model illustrating the potential linkages between ecological and economic elements that the introduction of Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) is likely to impact. We drew upon ecological values identified by stakeholders participating in a scoping workshop in Solomon Islands to identify ecological attributes at risk and we analyzed our conceptual model to characterize the effects of introduction and management decisions on these values. Our primary goal was to produce a document that will allow both risk assessors and PICT government officials considering the introduction of GIFT to make decisions that are as informed and transparent as possible.