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FAO Fisheries Department.
The ecosystem approach to fisheries.
FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries.
No. 4, Suppl. 2. Rome, FAO. 2003. 112 p.

These guidelines have been produced to supplement the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The Code and many international agreements and conferences highlight the many benefits that can be achieved by adopting an ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) and elaborate a number of agreed principles and concepts relating to EAF.

These guidelines attempt to make EAF operational by recognizing that this approach is a way to implement many of the provisions of the Code and achieve sustainable development in a fisheries context. They provide guidance on how to translate the economic, social and ecological policy goals and aspirations of sustainable development into operational objectives, indicators and performance measures. They are not seen as a replacement for, but rather an extension of, current fisheries management practices that need to be broadened to take into account the biotic, abiotic and human components of ecosystems in which fisheries operate.

EAF will require that current fisheries management processes include a broader range of users of marine ecosystems (including both extractive and non-extractive users) in deliberations and decision-making and, through improved participatory processes, broader assessment and consensus among users, whose objectives frequently compete. The process will need to take into account more effectively the interactions between fisheries and ecosystems, and the fact that both are affected by natural long-term variability as well as by other, non-fishery uses. Most importunately, the approach aims to ensure that future generations will benefit from the full range of goods and services that ecosystems can provide by dealing with issues in a much more holistic way, rather than by focusing on only certain target species or species groups, as has often been the case until now.

These guidelines also examine other aspects of current fisheries management approaches that will need to be broadened to implement EAF. They include the measures and incentives available to managers to assist in meeting operational objectives. They are a re-assessment of the legal and institutional infrastructure associated with fisheries management at regional and national levels, as well as ways to improve data collection, research and analyses.

Although there are many gaps in our current knowledge of ecosystems and how they function, these guidelines stress that uncertainty should not prevent the development of operational objectives aimed at improving human well-being as well as protecting and improving the status of marine coastal ecosystems. The guidelines recognize the differences in current capacity and knowledge that exist among different countries and attempt to provide a practical approach to implementing EAF by considering these differences.

The guidelines outline a certain number of impediments that may prevent achieving the significant longer-term benefits to be gained from adopting EAF. These impediments include a lack of investment in the management process, lack of adequate training and education, gaps in knowledge and lack of participation by the main stakeholders. As experience grows and as solutions to these major challenges become available, they will be published in subsequent editions of these guidelines.

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