Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Annex 2. Principles of relevance to an ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF)

The various forms of an ecosystem approach or ecosystem-based management described in literature or adopted formally by states refer to a number of inter-related guiding concepts, principles or requirements. Many of these are accepted and agreed; some of the fundamental ones were established formally in the 1982 Convention. Others have been derived or expanded from that convention. While these may not be new or specific to EAF, they become more relevant under this approach. They are reviewed in the following sections.

Avoiding overfishing

Article 61.2 of the 1982 Convention requires that states “ensure that the maintenance of the living resources in the exclusive economic zone is not endangered by over-exploitation”. This requirement is reflected in many of the agreements made to establish regional fishery management bodies and in most national fisheries legislation. For instance, the Australian ESD charter states that “a fishery must be conducted in a manner that does not lead to over-fishing”. While overfishing is not always precisely defined, the related objective is to allow catch levels (or fleet sizes) that are compatible with the maintenance of ecologically viable stock at an agreed level or range of levels, with acceptable probability that it is viable.

The same requirement is expressed in the 1980 CCAMLR, which states that “exploited populations must not be allowed to fall below a level close to that which ensures their greatest net annual increase”. This concept has also been central to fisheries management as established in the 1982 Convention which states that “measures shall also be designed to maintain ... populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), as qualified by relevant environmental and economic factors” (Article 62.3). As above, the related objective is to allow catch levels (or fleet sizes) that maintain stock at or above the MSY level. The FSA has established that, for precautionary purposes, MSY should be considered as a “limit” to be avoided and not a target to be reached.

Ensuring reversibility and rebuilding

The 1980 CCAMLR Convention requires that “risks of changes to the marine ecosystem that are not potentially reversible over two or three decades must be minimized”. The United States National Marine Fisheries Service Panel on ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) also noted as a principle that “once thresholds and limits [of an ecosystem] have been exceeded, changes can be irreversible”.

When stocks have been accidentally driven to excessively low levels, they should be rebuilt. The concept of rebuilding is reflected in the 1982 Convention (Article 62.3) which requires restoring “populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield, as qualified by relevant environmental and economic factors”. This imperative is also reflected in the Australian ESD charter, which states that “for those stocks that are accidentally over-fished, the fishery must be conducted such that there is a high degree of probability that the stock(s) will recover”. The CCAMLR Convention requires that, when stocks are accidentally overfished, “depleted populations must be restored to [former] levels”. The related objective is to plan for, and implement within mandatory timeframes, a rebuilding strategy for exploited stock(s) that are below the agreed and preferably precautionary reference points.

Minimizing fisheries impact

Article 5f of the FSA requires that “fishing operations should be managed to minimize their impact on the structure, productivity, function and biological diversity of the ecosystem. Related objectives are to conduct fisheries in a manner that (i) does not threaten by-catch species; (ii) avoids mortality of, or injuries to, endangered, threatened or protected species; (iii) minimizes the impact of fishing operations on the ecosystem generally.

Considering species interactions

The 1982 Convention refers to the need to “take account of ... the interdependence of stocks” (Article 62.3) and requires that “coastal states 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 62.4). The requirement is also reflected in Article 5b of the FSA. The CCAMLR Convention requires that “ecological relationships between harvested, dependent and related species ... be maintained”. This requirement often specifically refers to endangered, threatened or protected species. The related objective is to minimize by-catch and discards.

Ensuring compatibility

Boundaries of ecosystems and jurisdiction are unlikely to be fully compatible, and many ecosystems will straddle political boundaries, EEZs or extend into the high seas. However, management measures need to be coherent across the resource range. The FSA requires that “conservation and management measures [be] established for the high seas and those adopted for areas under national jurisdiction shall be compatible in order to ensure conservation and management of the straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks in their entirety” (Article 6.2). A related objective is to promote collaboration between sub-national or national authorities (as relevant) to ensure that measures taken under different jurisdictions converge towards agreed objectives.

Applying the precautionary approach

Aquatic ecosystems are complex and dynamic, and they change seasonally and in the longer-term. However, little is known about their complexity. Fisheries, aquaculture and other activities modify ecosystems. Their interconnections lead to potentially significant transboundary effects. Consequently, ecosystem resilience and human impact (including reversibility) are difficult to forecast and hard to distinguish from natural changes. In such circumstances, a precautionary approach is advisable. This approach is imbedded in the UNCED Declaration (Principle 15), which states that “the precautionary approach should be widely applied and that, where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation”. The approach has been adopted for fisheries in the FSA and the FAO Code of Conduct, and guidelines are available for its practical implementation. Related objectives are to (i) improve research to better understand ecosystems, (ii) take measures that account for complexity and dynamics and uncertainty and (ii) give attention to transboundary impacts.

Improving human well-being and equity

The requirement to satisfy human well-being (compatible with ecosystem requirements) is central to the concept of sustainable development, and it recognizes that uses can be sustainable only if they are of value to human beings and contribute to their well-being. The objective of EAF is the management and sustainable use of the aquatic resources in their marine environment for efficient and effective delivery of food, economic wealth and recreation.

With a view to improving human well-being, governance should endeavour to “establish and preserve inter-generational, intra-generational, cross-sectoral, cross-boundary and cross-cultural equity”. Equity implies that similar options are available to all parties, a principle of stewardship by Governments and the community. There exist a number of sub-concepts, but as yet no consensus has been reached. “Inter-generational equity” is widely referred to, and requires that future generations be given the same opportunity as the present ones to decide on how to use resources. It requires avoiding actions that are not potentially reversible on some agreed time scale (e.g. a human generation), consideration of long-term consequences in decision-making, and rehabilitation of degraded physical and biological environments. Lack of “intra-generational equity” (i.e. equity among sections of the present generation) is recognized as a major source of both conflict and non-compliance. “Inter-sectoral equity” seems very hard to define and make operational, but implies, for instance, that the fishery sector be treated fairly when its interests conflict with those of other sectors. “Cross-boundary equity” may be a condition for successful shared-stocks agreements. “Inter-cultural equity” is relevant when allocating resources to different cultures or defining rights (e.g. between indigenous and other populations).

Allocating user rights

The need to explicitly allocate user rights in fisheries is now fairly widely accepted. The need to allocate them against payment (for example, to capture economic rent or pay for management costs) is a matter of ongoing debate. The “user-pays principle” aims at fuller internalization of production costs. It states that “all resource users should pay for the full long-term marginal social cost of the use of a resources and related services including any associated treatment cost”. In other words, authorized users should pay for the exclusive privilege granted to them to use a public resource. The principle can be implemented through payments for licenses or quotas, or though taxes.

Promoting sectoral integration

The need for integrating the management of fisheries and other uses (e.g. in the coastal area) has been expressed in these terms: “States should ensure that an appropriate policy, legal and institutional framework is adopted to achieve the sustainable and integrated use of the resources, taking into account the fragility of coastal ecosystems and the finite nature of their natural resources and the needs of coastal communities” (FAO Code of Conduct, Article 10.1). An expression of this need can also be found in the recent World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) guidelines, which state that “ecosystems are of value to society and can potentially be used in many ways, to satisfy various sectors’ needs and strategic interests, now and in the future”.[13] This requires functional connections between fisheries management institutions, other sectoral institutions, and other institutions in charge of the ecosystem maintenance.

Broadening stakeholders participation

Most recent international instruments require that stakeholders be more closely associated to the management process, in data collection, knowledge-building, option analysis, decision-making and implementation. The need to deal with fisheries in their ecosystem context implies an even broader participatory process. This requirement is often combined with that of decentralizing decision-making at lower levels of administration to better take account of all sectoral and community interests. The concept of subsidiarity proposes that decisions be taken at the lowest possible level. It is increasingly invoked together with the recommendation to decentralize decision-making and to increase direct participation of stakeholders. It implies the creation of institutions and the development of governance capacity at lower governance levels.

Maintaining ecosystem integrity

Integrity is often stated as one of the goals of ecosystem management. While there is no agreed definition, ecosystem integrity is usually taken as implying or requiring: (i) maintenance of biodiversity at biological community, habitat, species and genetic levels (as required in the CBD); and (ii) maintenance of the ecological processes that support both biodiversity and resource productivity.

[13] World Wildlife Foundation Australia, Policy proposals and operational guidance for ecosystem-based management of marine capture fisheries, 2002 (

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page