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Coordinating Working Party on Fishery Statistics (CWP)

An ecosystem approach to fisheries strives to balance diverse social objectives, by taking into account the knowledge and uncertainties about biotic, abiotic, and human components of ecosystems and their interaction and applying an integrated approach to fisheries within ecological meaningful boundaries (From FAO 2003, FAO Technical Guidelines on the Ecosystem Approach to fisheries).

The knowledge, information and data base required to meet these requirements are extensive.

Human impact is documented through standard fisheries statistics as described in other sections of this manual (catch, effort by gear types) and data are collected through landing or logbook statistics. Data that are also required include by-catch which can be collected through interviewing skippers at the landing site, logbook information or by scientific observers or by inspector on vessels. CCLAMR, NEAFC and NAFO have logbook programmes that document impact on vulnerable marine ecosystems (VME) as part of their regular statistical programmes.

Classically, fisheries statistics document those components of the catches that are landed whether fishing is for commercial or recreational purposes. By-catch may include seabirds, marine mammals and non-commercial fish and invertebrates and such by-catch is often discarded is often not recorded and not included in the fisheries statistics reports. An ecosystem approach to fisheries management requires knowledge on such impacts and based on observer schemes, estimates of such catches are available for some fisheries. Basic statistics that document these impacts are equivalent to catch statistics, i.e. amount brought on deck by species or species group and if possible by size category.

Discarding includes the non-commercial by-catches but also commercial fish and shellfish can be discarded (high grading). Logbooks may be used for the documentation of catches. Some countries are experimenting with the use of CCTV systems for full documentation of the catches and such data could be used for a systematic collection of statistics on by-catch.

Abiotic components

Geological surveys provide information on sediment types and these data are useful in the identification of vulnerable habitats. Such data are not part of the fisheries statistics system although data are used in fisheries management.

Social objectives

Statistics on social and economic aspects of fisheries are required as part of an ecosystem approach. These data are discussed in section on social and economic fisheries statistics.

Sustainable development indicators

Documentation that fisheries impact is within sustainable limits is based on fisheries statistics supplemented with and analysis of these data normally summarised in the form of indicators. Such indicators are often related to reference points that have been agreed as suitable boundaries for the impact, e.g. upper limits on fishing mortality and by-catch limits.

Special attention is given to 'Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems' (VME) and regional fisheries organisations publish maps and establish special rules for fishing in areas where VME may be encountered. Fisheries statistics include the frequency of encounters with VME and is obtained from log-books and VMS information. VME areas must be identified either through catch data or through a database that inform on VME areas.