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Annex 1. Institutional foundation to the ecosystem approach to fisheries

The ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) is not a departure from the past fisheries management paradigms; it is, rather, a new phase in a process of continuous evolution. The concepts underlying EAF are already contained in many international and national legal instruments. This Annex contains a chronological list of some of the most prominent. They demonstrate the progressive building up of institutional strength in parallel with progress in the understanding of the ecosystem functioning and of human institutions created to conserve or use them. Some of the essential concepts and instruments of relevance to fisheries are examined briefly to illustrate that EAF is already well established in agreed broad policy and legal bases.

1. EAF and the concept of sustainable development

The EAF originates from two historical institutional processes directly related to the emergence of the concept of sustainable development.

1. The 1972 United Nations Conference on Human Environment (Stockholm, Sweden), which dealt with the environmental aspects of natural resources management, stressed the right of humankind “to modify the environment for its development and the dangers behind the huge capacity developed to do so”. The Stockholm Conference highlighted concepts central to the ecosystem management concept in general and to EAF in particular: people’s participation, resource limitation, environmental degradation, demography, planning and management, institutions, the role of science and technology, international collaboration and equity.

2. The 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (hereafter referred to as the 1982 Convention) – which came into force in 1994 – formulated the basis for conventional fisheries management and development. Its fisheries section refers to the maximum sustainable yield, corresponding to the level at which biological productivity (rate of growth and renewal capacity) is maximal, recognizing that it was influenced by environmental factors. Under Part V of the Convention, Article 61.3 states that resources conservation measures “shall also be designed to maintain or restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield, as qualified by relevant environmental and economic factors ... taking into account ... the interdependence of stocks.” Article 61.4 takes account of conservation measures in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by stating that “the coastal state shall take into consideration the effects on species associated with or dependent upon harvested species with a view to maintaining or restoring populations of such associated or dependent species above levels at which their reproduction may become seriously threatened.” Article 63 deals with the collaboration needed for shared populations of associated species. Article 119.1.b is similar to Article 61.4, but refers to resources in the high seas. Part XII of the Convention is dedicated to protection and preservation of the marine environment. Under Article 192, “states have the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment”. Under article 193, they “have the sovereign right to exploit their natural resources pursuant to their environmental policies and in accordance with their duty to protect and preserve the marine environment.”

This dual origin of EAF can still be seen in the two main pillars of this approach in its various forms already adopted: (i) the elimination of overcapacity and overfishing, rebuilding of depleted stocks and protection of associated and dependent species; and (ii) the maintenance of ecosystem habitats, functional relations between components and productivity.

The link between sustainable development and EAF is illustrated by the definition of sustainable fishing adopted by the United States Committee on Ecosystem Management for Sustainable Marine Fisheries, which defined EAF as “fishing activities that do not cause or lead to undesirable changes in biological and economic productivity, biological diversity, or ecosystem structure and functioning from one human generation to the next. Fishing is sustainable when it can be conducted over the long term at an acceptable level of biological and economic productivity without leading to ecological changes that foreclose options for future generations” (United States National Research Council, 1999).

The related term of “ecologically sustainable development” (ESD) was adopted in the early 1990s in Australia to emphasize the importance of the environment to long-term human well-being, and to ensure that there would be a balanced approach in dealing with environmental, social and economic issues. ESD was defined as “using, conserving and enhancing the community’s resources so that ecological processes, on which life depends, are maintained, and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased”.[12] The ESD approach aims at three key objectives: (i) to enhance individual and community well-being and welfare by following a path of economic development that safeguards the welfare of future generations; (ii) to provide for equity within and between generations; and (iii) to protect biological diversity and maintain essential ecological processes and life-support systems.

2. Institutional path to EAF

In addition to the 1972 United Nations Conference on Human Environment and the 1982 Convention, a number of international events have contributed to the progressive emergence of the EAF paradigm.

1. The FAO Technical Conference on Marine Pollution and its Effects on Living Resources and Fishing (Rome, 1970), provided an early expression of the concern for the impact of land-based sources of pollution and degradation on fisheries.

2. The FAO Technical Conference on Fishery Management and Development (Vancouver, Canada, 1972) stressed both the problems of overfishing and of environmental degradation from non-fishery sources. It also called for new management approaches based on precaution and on addressing multispecies problems. It proposed to integrate the new fisheries management within the broader framework of ocean management.

3. The 1980 Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is usually considered a precursor of the ecosystem approach to fisheries. Its provisions require that any harvesting and associated activities must be conducted in accordance with the following principles of conservation: (i) prevention of decrease in the size of any harvested population to levels below those which ensure its stable recruitment, and for this purpose, size should not be allowed to fall below a level close to that which ensures the greatest net annual increment; (ii) maintenance of the ecological relationships between harvested, dependent and related populations of Antarctic marine living resources and the restoration of depleted populations to the levels defined in (i) above; and (iii) prevention of changes or minimization of the risk of changes in the marine ecosystem which are not potentially reversible over two or three decades, taking into account the state of available knowledge of the direct and indirect impact of harvesting, the effect of the introduction of alien species, the effects of associated activities on the marine ecosystem and of the effects of environmental changes, with the aim of making possible the sustained conservation of Antarctic marine living resources.

4. The World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED, 1984–87) and the resulting Brundtland Report (Our common future, WCED, 1987) further developed the concept of sustainable development. The report stressed, inter alia, the concepts of inter-generational equity, sustainable use, prior environmental assessments, prior consultation, precaution and liability, and cooperation on transboundary environmental problems and natural resources.

5. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, 1992) completed this work and developed Agenda 21 as a basis for implementation. The Conference led to the adoption of a number of conventions and agreements of relevance to EAF, such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Biodiversity Convention and the United Nations Fisheries Stock Agreement (FSA). The Rio Declaration puts human beings “at the centre of concerns” (Principle 1) and recognizes the sovereign rights to exploit resources (Principle 2), as well as the responsibility to do so without damaging the environment beyond the EEZ (Principle 2). It recognizes, inter alia, the need to: cater for future generations (Principle 3), integrate environmental protection in development (Principle 4), eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption ((Principle 8), encourage public participation (Principle 10), widely apply the precautionary approach, internalize environmental costs (Principle 16 – “polluter-pays” principle), environmental impact assessment (Principle 17), the role of women (Principle 20) and indigenous communities (Principle 22) and peaceful conflict resolution (Principle 26).

6. Agenda 21 (UNCED, 1992) takes an ecosystem approach to ocean management. Chapter 17 calls for “new approaches to marine and coastal area management and development [which are] integrated in content and are precautionary and anticipatory in ambit”. It recognizes that using marine resources and protecting the environment are inseparable, and that integrated management is necessary for both. It addresses in detail the integrated management and sustainable development of coastal areas (Programme A), marine environmental protection (Programme B), sustainable use and conservation of marine living resources in the high seas (Programme C) and in areas under national jurisdiction (Programme D). It also addresses uncertainties related to natural variability of the marine environment and climate change (Program E). Programmes C and D are particularly relevant for fisheries. They provide for, inter alia, strengthening of conventional management (to eliminate overfishing) as well as multi-species management, associated and dependent species, relations between populations, restoration of depleted stocks, improvement of selectivity and reduction of discards, protection of endangered species and habitats, prohibition of destructive fishing, and the role of science.

7. The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) elaborates the core principles of multiple-use management of biodiversity. It emphasizes the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits. Under the Convention, parties have a right to exploit and use biological resources but also have an obligation to manage activities that may threaten biodiversity, regardless of where those effects may occur, and to collaborate where these effects occur on the high seas. In this respect, the CBD is compatible and convergent with the 1982 Convention, which it complements and reinforces, by ensuring that conservation and sustainable use goals apply to marine resources landward of the EEZ, where conservation obligations are not explicit under the 1982 Convention with respect to the 12-mile territorial sea, internal waters, or sedentary species of the continental shelf (CBD, Article 22.1). The CBD elaborates also on the 1982 Convention’s content with respect to genetic resources and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Furthermore, the CBD recommends establishing a system of marine protected areas (MPAs) as an essential measure for conserving biodiversity. According to the Convention, “biological diversity” means “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part” (Article 2). The CBD definition of biodiversity includes ecosystem diversity (the variety and frequency of occurrence of different ecosystems), species diversity (the frequency of occurrence of different species) and genetic diversity (the frequency of occurrence and diversity of different genes and/or genomes within species). Biodiversity is important from an EAF point of view, because it relates to “resilience”, the capacity to resist an impact or return to original conditions after the impact has been removed. Therefore, it is of interest to fisheries to maintain and possibly enhance diversity both in exploited habitats and among species, as “insurance” against the negative consequences of future changes.

8. The Jakarta Mandate on Marine and Coastal Biological Diversity (1995; COP 2, Decision II/10) elaborated further on the “ecosystem approach” adopted by the CBD focusing on protected areas, the precautionary approach, scientific knowledge, indigenous knowledge and stakeholders’ participation. It aims, inter alia, at integrated management, development of the ecosystem approach, valuation and effects of marine protected areas, assessment and minimization of mariculture impacts and the understanding of causes and impacts of the introduction of alien species.

9. The 1995 FSA aims at long-term conservation and sustainable use of marine living resources, recognizing from the onset “the need to avoid adverse impacts on the marine environment, preserve biodiversity, maintain the integrity of marine ecosystems and minimize the risk of long-term or irreversible effects of fishing operations” (p. 2). The FSA deals with the precautionary approach, protection of biodiversity, and sustainable use of fisheries resources. It calls on participating states to, inter alia: (i) protect biodiversity in the marine environment; (ii) adopt measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fish stocks and promote their optimum utilization; (iii) take account of environmental and economic factors; (iv) adopt an ecosystems approach, whereby dependent or associated species are taken into account; and (v) take measures to prevent or eliminate over-fishing and excess fishing capacity. It details, for the first time, the precautionary approach and how to apply it through the specification of precautionary reference points and the identification of management actions to be triggered in relation to these points. It promotes a principle of compatibility, according to which management measures taken in different jurisdictional areas must be compatible across the entire area of distribution of the stocks.

10. The 1995 Kyoto Declaration on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security emphasizes the importance of fisheries as a food source for the world’s population. It sets out a number of principles that focus on sustainable development of fishery resources related to maintaining food security. It contains the agreement to undertake immediate action to, inter alia: “conduct...integrated assessments of fisheries in order to evaluate opportunities and strengthen the scientific basis for multispecies and ecosystem management...and to minimize post-harvest losses...”.

11. The 2001 Reykjavik Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem directly and specifically addressed the issue of introducing more ecosystem considerations into conventional fisheries management. Referring to the 1982 Convention, UNCED and the Code of Conduct, it recognizes the need to take “into account the impacts of fisheries on the marine ecosystem and the impacts of the marine ecosystem on fisheries” and confirms that “the objective of including ecosystem considerations in fisheries management is to contribute to long-term food security and to human development and to assure the effective conservation and sustainable use of the ecosystem and its resources”. It recognizes “the complex inter-relationship between fisheries and other components of the marine ecosystems”, but stresses that including ecosystem considerations in fisheries management would “enhance management performance”. It calls for incorporation of ecosystem considerations, “such as predator-prey relationships” and for a better understanding of “the impact of human activities on the ecosystem”. It emphasizes the role of science and the impact of non-fishery (usually land-based) activities. The Reykjavik Declaration calls for, inter alia: (i) immediate introduction of management plans with incentives for sustainable use of ecosystems, (ii) strengthening of governance, (iii) prevention of adverse effects of non-fisheries activities on the marine ecosystems and fisheries, (iv) advances in the scientific basis for incorporating ecosystem considerations in management (including the precautionary approach), (v) monitoring of interactions between fisheries and aquaculture, (vi) strengthening of international collaboration, (vii) technology transfer, (viii) removal of trade distortions, (ix) collection of information on management regimes and (x) development of guidelines.

12. The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2002) adopted a Political Declaration and a Plan of Implementation. In the Declaration, the Heads of States “agree to protect and restore the integrity of our planet’s ecological system, with special emphasis on preserving biological diversity, the natural processes that sustain life on Earth... The significant reduction in the rate of current bio-diversity loss at national and global levels is a priority to achieve sustainable livelihoods for all.” The relevance to fisheries is obvious. The WSSD Plan of Implementation agreed to:

3. EAF elements in the Code of Conduct

The Code of Conduct is widely recognized as the most complete operational reference for fisheries management, combining many aspects of fisheries with environmental conventions and instruments. It contains a number of provisions which, when considered together, give a good indication of the ecosystem principles, concerns and policy guidance already available in the Code for the development of an ecosystem approach to fisheries. These are as follows:

1. Ecosystem and habitat protection: The Code refers to “with due respect” for the ecosystem (Introduction). Recognizing transboundary nature of ecosystems (6.4), it specifies that states should “conserve”, “protect” and “safeguard” them (6.1, 6.6, 7.2.2d and 12.10), to keep their “integrity” (9.12), including from the impacts of aquaculture (9.2). It promotes their research (2.1), calling for an assessment of the impact of fishing, pollution, other habitat alterations and climate change (12.5). The Code deals with habitat protection (6.8; 7.2.2d) and the need to “safeguard” (12.10) critical habitats, requesting the rehabilitation of degraded ones (6.5; 7.6.10) and promoting research on the impact of their alteration on the ecosystem (12.5) as well as a prior assessment of the potential impact of new fisheries or introduction of new technologies (8.4.7 and 12.11).

2. Role of environmental factors: The Code states, in its Introduction, that it “takes account of” the environment. Its provisions promote its protection (2g, 6.5 and 8.7). It promotes research on environmental factors (2j) and requires that such factors be taken into account in the “best scientific information available” (6.4) even when the scientific information available is inadequate (6.5). It requires that fishing be conducted “with due regard” for the environment (8.4.1), which should be monitored for impacts (10.2.4). It recognizes, in line with the 1982 Convention, the qualifying role of environmental factors on the Maximum Sustainable Yield (7.2.1).

3. Environmental impacts of fisheries: The Code requires that the impact of fisheries activities (including aquaculture and artificial reefs) should be minimized (6.7, 6.19, 8.9d and 9.1.5) and recommends the development of research on such impacts (8.11) for their assessment (9.15) and monitoring (9.15). It aims at “ecologically sustainable” activities (9.1.3). It promotes a reduction of pollution and use of chemicals (9.4), environmentally sound processing, transport or storage (11.1.7), and calls for regulation of environmental impacts of post-harvest practices (11.1.2). The Code refers to the need for prior impact assessment and monitoring of gear impact (12.11), the prohibition of destructive practices (8.4.2) and the development of environmentally safe gear. The Code also considers, albeit very briefly, the problem of sound or optimal use of energy (8.6 and 11.8c).

4. Environmental impacts of other users and pollution: The Code also addresses other (non-fishery) users (1.2; 10.1.5) and acknowledges the impact of other human activities on fisheries. It recommends avoiding or settling conflicts (10.1.4 and 10.1.5). It also recognizes that other user’s impacts should be assessed (7.2.3) and promotes the development of environmental research (8.4.8 and 12.10). It requires that the negative effects of natural environmental factors should not be exacerbated by fisheries (7.5.5) and calls for restoration of resources affected by other uses (7.6.10). It calls specifically for consultation with fisheries authorities before making decisions regarding the abandonment, in the aquatic ecosystem, of artificial structures (e.g. oil platforms). The Code contains also one article entirely dedicated to the integration of fisheries into coastal areas management (1.1, 1.3, 6.9, 8.11.3 and 10.2.4). The Code calls for a reduction of pollution (7.2.2) through the development of waste disposal systems (e.g. for oil, garbage, decommissioned gear) in harbours and landing places (8.7.4 and 8.9c). Dumping at sea from fishing vessels should follow the requirements of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) (8.7.4) for onboard incineration (8.7.2). Emissions into the atmosphere should be reduced (8.8) including emissions of exhaust gas (8.8.1), ozone emissions, phasing out of conventional cooling agents (chlorofluorocarbons) (8.8.3) and use of alternative refrigerants (8.8.4).

5. Biodiversity and endangered species conservation: The Code reflects “due respect” for biodiversity (Introduction). It promotes its maintenance (6.1), protection (7.2.2d), safeguard (12.10) and conservation (9.2.1), mentioning genetic diversity (9.2.1 and 9.1.2), the need to minimize fisheries impact on biodiversity (9.2.1) and to develop research about fishing gear impact. The Code also recognizes the existence of endangered species that need to be protected (7.2.2), minimizing fisheries impacts on them (7.6.9).

6. Multispecies management: The Code distinguishes between exploited and non-exploited species belonging to the same ecosystem, the “target” species on the one hand and “non-target” species and “dependent or associated” species (in accordance with the 1982 Convention) on the other. Regarding the “dependent and associated” species, the Code promotes the study of their behaviour (12.10), their conservation (6.2 and 6.5), the absence of adequate scientific information (6.5, precautionary approach), accidental fishing mortality (7.2.5), the assessment (7.2.3) and the reduction/minimization of catches (7.2.2, 769 and 6.6) or fisheries impacts (6.6 and 7.2.2). The Code deals with conservation of populations structure (6.1), their rehabilitation in case of damage (6.3) and the analysis of the impacts on them of environmental factors (12). It also includes the need for the scientific study of the inter-relations between populations (7.3.3).

7. Coastal areas: The Code recognizes that these key geographical areas for an ecosystem approach to fisheries management. The Code requires that they should be protected (2g) and has one article entirely dedicated to the integration of fisheries into coastal areas management (1.1, 1.3, 6.9, 8.11.3 and 10.2.4).

8. Selectivity, ghost fishing, by-catch, discards and waste: Inadequate selectivity of fishing gear is a central ecological issue that impacts on target as well as non-target species, by-catch, discards and waste. The Code dedicates a whole section to the issue (8.5) and promotes the use of more selective gear (7.6.9 and 8.4.5) and calls for more international collaboration in better gear development (8.5.1 and 8.5.4), as well as for the agreement on gear research standards. The Code calls for minimizing discards (12.10) and waste (6.6, 7.2.2 and 7.6.9) including through reduction of dumping and loss of gear (7.2.2).

9. Risk, uncertainty and precaution: The Code, in line with the UNCED Rio Principle 15 and the 1995 FSA, deals with uncertainty, risk and precaution (7.5) and recommends the wide application of the precautionary approach to “preserve the aquatic environment” (6.5 and 7.5.1), taking into account various uncertainties (7.5.2 and 10.2.3), using reference points (7.5.3), adopting cautious measures for new fisheries (7.5.4) and avoiding to add pressure on a stock naturally affected by a negative environmental impact (7.5.5). The Code also recommends a scientific Prior Impact Assessment (PIA) before a new fishery is developed or a new technology is deployed (8.4.7 and 12.11)

[12] Commonwealth of Australia, National strategy for ecologically sustainable development, Canberra, Australian Government Publishing Service, 1992..

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