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Executive summary

The broad principles and approach for effective and responsible fisheries management are contained in the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, many of which relate to an ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF). EAF is, in effect, a means of implementing many of the provisions of the Code and provides a way to achieve sustainable development in a fisheries context. The principles pertaining to EAF are not new. They are already included in a number of international agreements and conference documents, including the 1972 World Conference on Human Environment; the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (LOS); the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and its Agenda 21; the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity; the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement; the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries; the 2001 Reykjavik Declaration; and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). However, although the principles are not new, there has been little prior practical experience in implementing them. The guidelines, therefore, attempt to translate these higher-level principles into operational objectives and measures capable of delivering on EAF in a broad range of social and economic settings, particularly in developing countries.

There have been increasing demands for a practical set of guidelines for implementing EAF as a result of heightened awareness of the importance of interactions among fishery resources, and between fishery resources and the ecosystems within which they exist. A further incentive has been the recognition of the multiple objectives and values of fishery resources and marine ecosystems within the context of sustainable development. In addition, it is considered essential to disseminate information about the poor state of many the world’s fisheries along with recent advances in science that highlight both knowledge and uncertainties about the functional value of ecosystems (i.e. the goods and services they are capable of providing).

In developing the guidelines, a comparison was made between what was needed to implement EAF with what is already required under current fisheries management practices. These comparisons focused on the dominant management paradigm in many medium- to large-scale commercial fisheries, namely to maintain the target resource base by controlling the size and operations of the fishing activity (referred to as a target-oriented approach to management (TROM)). This focus does not, however, ignore the fact that many small-scale, multi-species fisheries in both developing and developed countries are often undertaken with little intervention beyond development support, or are based on more traditional management methods.

The guidelines recognize that there is a need to improve current fisheries management. The interactions that occur between fisheries and ecosystems, and the fact that both are affected by natural long-term variability as well as by other, non-fishery uses, must be more effectively taken into consideration. The purpose of an ecosystem approach to fisheries, therefore is to plan, develop and manage fisheries in a manner that addresses the multiple needs and desires of societies, without jeopardizing the options for future generations to benefit from the full range of goods and services provided by marine ecosystem.

From this purpose, the definition of EAF follows. An ecosystem approach to fisheries strives to balance diverse societal objectives, by taking into account the knowledge and uncertainties about biotic, abiotic and human components of ecosystems and their interactions and applying an integrated approach to fisheries within ecologically meaningful boundaries.

Both the purpose and the definition recognize that EAF is a means to implement sustainable development concepts into fisheries by addressing both human and ecological well-being. They merge two related but potentially converging paradigms. The first is ecosystem management that focuses on protecting and conserving ecosystem structure and functions by managing the biophysical components of ecosystem (e.g. introducing marine protected areas (MPAs)), and the second is fisheries management that focuses on providing food and income/livelihoods for humans by managing fisheries activities. EAF recognizes the broader uses and users of the marine environment (including fishing) and the need to accommodate and reconcile the many objectives of these users so that future generations can also derive the full range of goods and services provided by the ecosystem. This approach also recognizes that man is an essential component of the ecosystem in which fishing takes place, and it focuses on the interactions within the system. EAF attempts to deal with issues in a holistic way, a feature often lacking in current fishery management practices that focus on individual species or species groups.

The ecosystem is a functional unit comprising dynamic complexes of plants, animals (including humans), micro-organisms and the non-living environment. Ecosystems exist on many scales, which are frequently defined in terms of the question being asked. However for ecosystems to be a functional management unit they need to be geographically-based with ecologically meaningful boundaries.

EAF is neither inconsistent with, nor a replacement for current fisheries management approaches (e.g. as described in the FM Guidelines), and is likely to be adopted as an incremental extension of current fisheries management approaches. To provide continuity between current fisheries management practices and EAF, this publication use the FM Guidelines as a template, reinforcing those sections most pertinent to EAF and adding to them as appropriate to ensure that they give due attention to the extra dimensions required by EAF. The structure of these EAF Guidelines therefore follows that of the FM Guidelines.

The guidelines initially focus on the need for broader sets of data and information to support EAF. While recognizing that the availability of relevant information will vary widely among countries, considerable relevant information is nonetheless available. Some of this data comes from outside the conventional fisheries area, frequently from fishers and local people especially in developing countries where traditional knowledge of ecosystems and the fishery should be collected and made available for use by others. Many of the measures available to managers to implement EAF are based on those currently used for TROM fisheries management, but have been broadened to include a greater use of economic incentives and ecosystem manipulations. Current measures such as effort, catch, technical gear and area-based controls must be broadened to address a wider range of issues than simply management of the target species of the fishery.

These guidelines describe how the current management process would change under EAF. Although the EAF management process uses essentially the same cycle of planning, implementation and evaluation, there is a need to provide for better consultation with a broader range of stakeholders, and for a more rigorous setting of operational objectives, decision rules and evaluation of management performance. The approach described here encourages the participation of all relevant stakeholders, translating high-level policy goals into day-to-day management activities. Competing goals and aspirations should be debated to promote consensus. Participatory processes that allow consultation and input from an initial group of stakeholders must be developed in order to:

Moving from high-level policy goals to operational objectives is a major challenge in areas where the goals deal with concepts such as ecosystem integrity, ecosystem health and biodiversity. It must be stressed, however, that operational objectives such as protection of critical habitats must be developed, or EAF will fail. Although there is lack of knowledge concerning ecosystem functioning and structure, uncertainty must not prevent the development of operational goals based on the best available knowledge. The process moves from higher-level goals to operational objectives whether applied to data-poor fisheries with low scientific and management capacity, or to fisheries rich in data and capacity.

In examining the legal and institutional aspects of EAF, the guidelines point out that, although the basic guiding principles and concepts are largely contained in already agreed international instruments and conference documents, the detailed requirement for operational EAF are not well covered in binding international fisheries law at present. They are mainly reflected in voluntary instruments such as the Code of Conduct. As a result, few regional fisheries bodies and arrangements make explicit recognition of EAF in their conventions. Similarly, EAF is not frequently an integral part of national fisheries policy and legislation. For EAF to be implemented, legislation will need to be reviewed and improved as appropriate. EAF may require more complex sets of rules or regulations that recognize and cater for the impacts of fisheries on other sectors and the impact of those sectors on fisheries.

EAF requires adherence to the same principles of transparent and participatory management that already guide many current management practices. Given the broader stakeholder base under EAF, there will frequently be a need for institutions to coordinate better consultation, cooperation and joint decision-making between fisheries operating in the same geographical area, and between the fisheries and other sectors that interact with them. For example, where one fishery causes a decline in one or more prey species of a predator targeted by another fishery, there must be an institution or arrangement to coordinate the management actions of both fisheries, including the reconciliation of the different objectives of the two. This recognizes the true nature and extent of access and allocation of resources within an ecosystem, often neglected or ignored in fisheries management practices.

A transition to EAF will be greatly facilitated if adequate attention is given to the education and training of all those involved, including fishers, the management agency officials and staff and other stakeholders. The administrative structures and functions, including monitoring, control and surveillance, will have to be adapted as necessary.

A start should be made now in the implementation of EAF, where it has not already begun, based on existing knowledge. However, implementation and effectiveness will undoubtedly benefit from reducing important uncertainties, and further research is needed for this purpose. These guidelines identify a number of essential areas for further research, including better understanding of ecosystem structure and function and how fisheries affect them; integrating social, economic and ecological considerations into decision-making; improving the management measures available to implement EAF; understanding the management process better; and improving monitoring and assessments.

While it is generally recognized that EAF will generate important benefits, there are a number of major threats to smooth implementation of EAF. A lack of investment in the process will certainly hinder progress and could mean failure in the end. It will also take considerable resources to reconcile the often competing objectives of the different stakeholders, possibly aggravated by the difficulties of ensuring effective participation of all stakeholders in the development and implementation of EAF. Insufficient biological and ecological knowledge will continue to be a constraint, as will insufficient education and awareness, because these affect the ability of all stakeholders, including the fishery management agencies, to exercise their responsibilities. Equity issues will always be difficult to resolve in relation to responsibility for ecosystem degradation between fisheries and other economic activities such as agriculture (including forestry), chemical industries, urban and coastal development, energy and tourism.

These issues will need to be addressed, and as more practical experience becomes available, solutions can be incorporated into future editions of the EAF Guidelines.

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