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3. Precautionary Approach to Fishery Management

3.1. Introduction

19. Management according to the precautionary approach exercises prudent foresight to avoid unacceptable or undesirable situations, taking into account that changes in fisheries systems are only slowly reversible, difficult to control, not well understood, and subject to change in the environment and human values.

20. An important element of the precautionary approach is to establish legal or social management frameworks for all fisheries, which is not the current situation. At a minimum, such frameworks should establish rules controlling access to fisheries (e.g., all boats must be licensed), data reporting requirements, and processes for planning and implementing more comprehensive fishery management. Plans for management institutionalize prudent foresight that takes into account potential consequences of fishery development and events affecting it. Comprehensive plans for fisheries can take a long time to develop. For this reason the legal or social management framework should include interim measures that safeguard the resources until such plans are adopted.

21. The precautionary approach gives due concern to long-term effects in the specification of management objectives and in the development of management frameworks, procedures, and measures. The consequences of management and fishery development are evaluated to reduce the possibilities of changes that are not potentially reversible on a 2 to 3 decade time scale. Processes for determining acceptable changes and impacts are used to support the precautionary approach. Thus, a precautionary approach links fisheries management intimately with general environmental management.

22. Precautionary management involves explicit consideration of undesirable and potentially unacceptable outcomes and provides contingency and other plans to avoid or mitigate such outcomes. Undesirable or unacceptable outcomes include overexploitation of resources, overdevelopment of harvesting capacity, loss of biodiversity, major physical disturbances of sensitive biotopes, or social or economic dislocations. Undesirable conditions can also arise when a fishery is negatively influenced by other fisheries or other activities and when management fails to take action in the face of shifts in the external conditions affecting, for example, the productivity of the fish stocks.

23. The operational interpretations of precautionary management will depend on the context. Different interpretation may be appropriate depending on the scale of the fishing operations (artisanal or small-scale fisheries vs. highly capitalized and technologically advanced fisheries) and on the state of the exploited system (early stages of exploitation versus systems in a state of obvious overexploitation).

24. The precautionary approach is included in all stages of the management process. Thus, precaution should be identifiable in the different stages of management, from planning through implementation, enforcement and monitoring to re-evaluation. These issues are covered in the following paragraphs organized according to the different stages in a management process.

3.2. Management Planning

25. A precautionary approach to managing a fishery involves developing, within management strategies and plans, explicit consideration of precautionary actions that will be taken to avoid specific undesirable outcomes. As over-development of harvesting capacity is a common cause of undesirable outcomes, a management plan should include mechanisms to monitor and control that capacity. Consideration needs to be given to how uncertainty and ignorance are to be taken into account in developing and varying management measures. For all fisheries, plans should be developed or revised to incorporate precautionary elements. The plans, even where no additional precautionary elements are considered necessary, should be re-evaluated in accordance with the process outlined below. Where there are multiple fisheries, plans will also be required to implement precautionary approaches to their aggregate impact on the marine environment. The plans should consider time scales of at least two to three decades, or longer in the case of long-lived species.

26. To ensure broad acceptance, all stages of planning should involve consultation with the fishing industry, conservation groups, and other interested parties. Fisheries plans should also be coordinated with integrated coastal-area management plans. In order to identify a management plan that has broad acceptance, it is best to consider a range of alternatives, each of which has been developed and evaluated through the components set out below. The range of alternatives may differ in their basic approach or in detail. For example, a basic approach using total allowable catches (TACs) could be contrasted with one using effort controls. Variations in detail might involve different decision rules for the TACs.

Specifying management objectives

27. The first step is to identify the broad management objectives to be achieved. The management objectives need to consider both the manner in which the benefits from the fishery are to be realized, as well as the possible undesirable outcomes which are to be avoided. Broad objectives include considerations of long-term interests and the avoidance of irreversible or slowly reversible changes. Typically, the catches are to be as large as possible, so long as the probability of substantial stock depletion is below an acceptably low level and catches can be kept reasonably steady.

28. The general objectives could be taken as the starting point for setting the more specific objectives for a particular fishery. To be precautionary, priority should be accorded to restoration of already overfished stocks, to avoidance of overfishing, and to avoidance of excessive harvesting capacity. Objectives should also include restricting the environmental impacts of fishing to acceptable levels. Some examples are limiting or eliminating bycatch and incidental mortality of non-target species and containing the possible effects of some types of fishing gear on bottom communities.

Specifying operational targets and constraints

29. Targets identify the desired outcomes for the fishery. For example, these may take the form of a target fishing mortality, or a specified level of average abundance relative to the unfished state. In some cases, these targets are likely to be identical with those that would be specified for fisheries management, regardless of whether a precautionary approach was to be adopted. In other cases, targets may need to be adjusted to be precautionary, for example, by setting the target fishing mortality lower than FMSY.

30. The operational constraints explicitly define the undesirable outcomes that are to be avoided. For example, to avoid the risk of declining recruitment, a minimum spawning stock biomass, range of ages, or geographic range could be set to define safe limits within which the stock should be maintained with a specified high probability. Specific limits may also be required to deal with ecosystem effects, with bycatches and with other side-effects of the fishery.

31. Operational targets and constraints should be expressed in measurable terms such as target reference points and limit reference points (refer to FAO documents). The details of what can be measured will often vary with different species and fisheries, and so the operational targets and constraints will need to be expressed in ways that take this into account. The specification of operational targets and constraints cannot be separated from consideration of the types of data and methods that can be used to assess the status of the stocks. In all cases attention should be given to the rate at which targets are approached so as to avoid overshooting them and hence violating the constraints.

Specifying the procedure to apply and adjust management measures

32. A management plan must indicate which management measures are to be applied, and the circumstances under which the measures are to be varied. This should involve the formulation of decision rules, which specify in advance what action should be taken when specified deviations from the operational targets and constraints are observed. The specification should include minimum data requirements for the types of assessment methods to be used for decision-making.

33. Precautionary management measures listed below under “Examples of Precautionary Measures” could be included in the plan. To be precautionary, decision rules are required for responding to unexpected or unpredictable events with minimum delay. All foreseeable contingencies should be considered when developing the plan. For example, plans should include explicit effort-reduction measures that apply in response to unpredicted, marked decline in recruitment.

34. It is highly desirable that the procedure makes regular small adjustments to the management measures so as to maintain acceptably low levels of probability that the constraints are violated. It is not always possible to simultaneously attain a target (desired outcome) for a fishery and respect constraints designed to prevent undesirable outcomes. For example, a specified target fishing mortality such as FMSY may reduce the spawning stock biomass to a level near the levels where there should be a precautionary constraint designed to avoid the probability of declining recruitment. If, for example, the constraint is to maintain spawning stock biomass above 30% of the average unfished level with high probability, then a FMSY target that would reduce the spawning stock biomass to 35% of the unfished level could have a too high probability of violating the constraint. Precautionary management must adjust targets to be consistent with the constraints.

Prospective evaluation

35. A precautionary approach requires that the feasibility and reliability of the management options be evaluated. A management plan should not be accepted until it has been shown to perform effectively in terms of its ability to avoid undesirable outcomes. The evaluation can be used to determine whether the data and assessment methods available for management are sufficient to meet the management objectives. The evaluation should attempt to determine if the management plan is robust to both statistical uncertainty and to incomplete knowledge on factors such as uncertain stock identity and abundance, stock dynamics, and the effects of environmental variability and trends. As well, evaluations should consider the dynamic behaviour of the harvesting sector and managers* ability to change harvest levels.

36. For economically valuable fisheries, and where substantial scientific expertise is available, there will usually be substantial benefits from employing powerful evaluation techniques such as simulation modelling. Such analyses will often reveal which sources of uncertainty are critical to achieving satisfactory results for the various objectives. The evaluation will also need to take into account the practicality of implementing, and securing compliance with, the range of management measures included in the plan.

37. For small fisheries and artisanal fisheries, computationally intensive management analyses are often not possible or cost-effective. In such cases, management measures will probably not depend on quantitative analyses, but rather on assessing the practicality of ensuring that the precautionary measures are accepted and observed by the fishing community. An example would be closing certain areas to fishing to protect a sufficient proportion of the stock. Another example would be to establish a community-based fisheries management system. This would decentralize fisheries management authority to resource users and could reduce the cost of fisheries management and enforcement. Other examples of simple precautionary measures applicable to such fisheries are given in the section “Examples of Precautionary Measures” below.

38. If management options are found to be inadequate with respect to precaution, then one or more of the following aspects can be modified and then re-evaluated until the management system is judged to be adequate. These aspects may include:

a. modification of the operational targets and constraints;
b. re-specification of the procedure to apply management measures;
c. further research to reduce critical uncertainties, or
d. consideration of more powerful assessment and monitoring methods.
3.3. Implementation, Monitoring, and Enforcement

39. Management plan implementation puts in place all planned decision rules. This involves the practical interpretation of objectives and procedures, and the implementation of detailed instructions for compliance, monitoring of the fishery, and enforcement tactics. Elements of the implementation phase include: stock assessments, rule setting, economic assessments, and communication of decisions and rationale to the public and fishing industry. Because the public and industry are more inclined to understand and support measures on which they are consulted, public participation in the implementation phase is important. Peer review of stock assessments and a transparent process help to guard against error, which is essential to effective implementation of the planned measures. Independent auditing of the monitoring procedures should also be a regular feature of the management system. The effect of the measures on compliance should be studied specifically.

40. Monitoring of a fishery involves collection of all information relevant to ensuring that the plan is being executed and that it is achieving the desired results. In particular, data are needed to determine whether that precautionary decision rules are being violated. A precautionary approach to monitoring will use many and various sources of information, including environmental and socio-economic data.

41. Precautionary monitoring of fishing should seek to detect and observe a variety of ancillary impacts, e.g., environmental changes, fish habitat degradation, and effects on birds, mammals and other biota. This monitoring function could use information from fishing participants, indigenous people, and other public groups, and have appropriate procedures to process and analyze this information.

42. In a precautionary management system, contingency rules should be implemented to ensure compliance with operational targets and constraints in the face of major adverse events with low probability. There should also be mechanisms for revising targets and constraints in the light of unexpected events.

43. A precautionary system of enforcement and the penalties for non-compliance should have the flexibility for prompt action by redeployment of monitoring and enforcement resources. For example, the first signs of bycatch problems should be followed by more extensive sampling in problem areas according to an agreed procedure or enhanced surveillance of the fishery. In the case of emergency, it should be possible to rapidly modify regulations.

3.4. Re-evaluation of Management Systems

44. The level of precaution in the management system needs to be re-assessed periodically. This includes: (1) the degree of precaution in the objectives, operational targets and constraints in relation to observed changes in the fishery and the environment, (2) the use of scientific information and other information in the management process, (3) the applicability of the contingency plans for unexpected conditions, and (4) auditing of all procedures in the fisheries management system. Special re-evaluations should be initiated as soon as it becomes apparent that the fishery inadvertently violates the limit reference points established in the plan.

3.5. Implementation guidelines

45. There are several precautionary measures that fisheries management agencies should take in order to avoid undesirable or unacceptable outcomes in the development of fisheries. Some of these will apply to all types of fisheries, whereas others will be useful only in specific situations such as overexploited fisheries. For illustrative purposes, we list precautionary measures for four typical situations: (1) new or developing fisheries; (2) overutilized fisheries; (3) fully utilized fisheries; and (4) traditional or artisanal fisheries.

46. The listed measures could be included in comprehensive fisheries plans, but could also be used in the interim for immediate precautionary action. An example interim measure in the case of new fisheries would be a conservative cap on fishing effort. In overutilized fisheries an interim measure would be a rapid reduction of fishing mortality. Once various proposed management plans have been evaluated by the methods discussed above, the approved plan can replace the interim action.

New or developing fisheries

47. Some of the precautionary measures listed below for new or still-developing fisheries will also apply to fully utilized, overutilized, or artisanal fisheries, as described later. Most of these recommendations also apply to existing fisheries that are not yet managed:

a. always control access to the fishery early, before problems appear. An open access fishery is not precautionary;

b. immediately put a conservative cap (or default level) on both fishing capacity and the total fishing mortality rate. This could be achieved by limiting effort or total allowable catch. As well, attention should be paid to preventing excessive investment in the processing sector. The conservative caps should remain in place until analyses of data justify an increase in fishing effort or fishing mortality. The objective is to prevent that the development of the fleet’s fishing power and capacity outpaces the ability of management to understand the effect of existing fishing effort;

c. build in flexibility so that it is feasible to phase vessels out of the fleet, if this becomes necessary. To avoid new investments in fishing capacity, temporarily license vessels from another fishery;

d. to limit risks to the resource and the environment, use area closures, which are relatively quick to implement and are easily enforceable. Closures provide refuges for fish stocks, protect habitat, and provide areas for comparison with fished areas;

e. establish precautionary, preliminary biological limit reference points (e.g., spawning stock biomass less than 50% of the initial biomass) in the planning stage as described above;

f. encourage fishing in a responsible manner to ensure long-term persistence of a productive stock or other parts of the ecosystem. For instance, encourage voluntary agreements on conduct in the fishery through co-management, community management, or some form of tenure of fishing rights;

g. encourage development of fisheries that are economically viable without long-term subsidies;

h. establish a data collection and reporting system for new fisheries early in their development;

i. immediately start a research programme on the stock and fisheries, including the response of individual vessels to regulations. When issuing a fishing license, require a vessel to report detailed information, including standard biological data and economic information, and

j. take advantage of any opportunities for setting up experimental situations to generate information on the resources. This could be done by contrasting different harvesting strategies on subpopulations, for instance.

Overutilized fisheries

48. Most of the above recommendations also apply to fish stocks that are already overutilized, but in addition, special precautionary measures need to be taken for such stocks. These are:

a. immediately limit access to the fishery and put a cap on a further increase in fishing capacity and fishing mortality rate;

b. establish a recovery plan that will rebuild the stock over a specific time period with reasonable certainty. This will include several of the components below;

c. reduce fishing mortality rates long enough to allow rebuilding of the spawning stock. If possible, take immediate short-term action even on the basis of circumstantial evidence about the effectiveness of a particular measure. In some cases this can be accomplished by entirely closing some areas to fishing;

d. when there is a good year class, give priority to using the recruits to rebuild the stock rather than increasing the allowable harvest;

e. reduce fishing capacity to avoid recurrence of over-utilization. Remove excessive fishing capacity from the fishery; do not provide subsidies or tax incentives to maintain fishing capacity. If necessary, develop mechanisms to eliminate some fishing effort;

f. alternatively, allow vessels to move from an overutilized fishery into another fishery, as long as the pressure from this redeployment does not jeopardize the fishery that the vessels are moving into;

g. do not use artificial propagation as a substitute for the precautionary measures listed above;

h. in the management plan, establish biological reference points to define recovery, using measures of stock status, such as spawning stock biomass, spatial distribution, age structure, or recruitment, and

i. for species where it is possible, closely monitor the productivity and total area of required habitat to provide another indicator of when management action is needed.

Fully utilized fisheries

49. These are fisheries that are heavily harvested but not yet overexploited. Regulatory agencies must particularly watch for signs that the population is becoming overexploited. While some precautionary measures from the above lists apply here, additional measures to take in this situation are:

a. ensure that there are means to effectively keep fishing mortality rate and fishing capacity at the existing level;

b. there are many “early-warning signs” that a stock is becoming overutilized (e.g., age structure of the spawners shifting to an unusually high proportion of young fish, shrinking spatial distribution of the stock or species composition in the catch). These warning signs should trigger investigative action according to prespecified procedures while interim management actions are taken, as noted below;

c. when precautionary or limit reference points are approached closely, prespecified measures should be taken immediately to ensure that they will not be exceeded (i.e., do not wait until violation of a limit point is imminent to start deciding what to do about it);

d. if limit reference points are exceeded, recovery plans should be implemented immediately to restore the stock. The recommendations for overutilized stocks described above should then be implemented;

e. to prevent excessively reducing the reproductive capacity of a population, avoid harvesting immature fish, unless there is strong protection of the spawning stock. For example, if immature fish exceed a specified percentage of the catch, close the local area to all harvesting.

Traditional or artisanal fisheries

50. These are low-technology fisheries carried out by large numbers of small vessels, often where there is no central management agency. Again, many of the recommendations above apply to these fisheries. The following precautionary steps can also apply to some recreational fisheries:

a. keep some areas closed to fishing in order to obtain the benefits noted above as item (d) under “New or Developing Fisheries”. Also ensure that excessive fishing effort does not develop in the open areas;

b. delegate some of the decision-making, especially area closures and entry limitations, to local communities or cooperatives;

c. ensure that fishing pressure from other (e.g., industrial) segments of the fishery does not deplete the resources to the point where severe corrective action is needed, and

d. investigate the factors that influence the behaviour of harvesters to develop approaches that can control fishing intensity. For example, improving incomes of individual harvesters may reduce pressure on resources.

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