85. The Secretariat referred the Committee to documents COFI/2003/10, COFI/2003/Inf.13 and 14, the advance copy of the FAO Technical Guidelines and the review of the issue to be published soon as an FAO Fisheries Technical Paper, and described the progress made in developing and implementing the approach since the Twenty-fourth Session of COFI.
86. Noting, inter alia, the Reykjavik Declaration on Marine Ecoystems, the Secretariat referred to the close relationship between fishing and the ecosystem, including the need to consider the impact of fishing on the ecosystem and the impact of the ecosystem on fishing. It stressed that the ecosystem approach to fisheries was an extension of conventional fisheries management as embedded, inter alia, in the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. In inviting the Committee’s views on the approach and future activities, the Secretariat drew attention to the target dates set by the WSSD, including the implementation of ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) by 2010.
87. Many Members complimented FAO on the progress it had made in advancing the EAF concept and provided their full support to the approach. The Committee noted that many Members were already addressing several aspects of EAF. Some Members noted in this context that they were already addressing the impact on associated species, bycatch (e.g., turtles, seabirds and sharks) and selectivity of fishing gear, spatial and temporal closures, marine protected areas, stakeholder involvement in fisheries management, restocking, restoring of critical habitats and species interactions. One Member cited as an example culling jelly fish in the Caspian Sea.
88. Many Members noted that the term “Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries”, as considered by the Expert Consultation, characterized the broad holistic and integrated nature of the approach. The need to adopt effectively a more holistic and integrated approach to fisheries management was indeed stressed by many Members, including the need to consider a broader range of issues that had impact on fisheries, including the impacts of pollution, coastal development and other land-based practices. The linkage between integrated coastal areas and EEZ management as well as the management of large marine ecosystems was also noted. Several Members drew the Committee’s attention to the coral reef issue and requested FAO, especially the Committee, to give due consideration to the sustainable management of the world’s coral reefs and take them into account in the ecosystem approach to fisheries management.
89. In recognizing the complexity of ecosystems, the need for further data and research on many topics relating to EAF was noted by many Members. Some Members, in particular Members from developing countries, expressed concern and cautioned about the increased complexity, costs and difficulty in implementing ecosystem considerations in fisheries management, and re-iterated the need for technical assistance and support to avoid broadening the gap between Members from developing and developed countries. It was generally agreed, however, that although the approach needed further clarification, many of its aspects could already be introduced into current fisheries management practices.
90. The linkage between EAF and small-scale fisheries management was recognized. The Committee suggested that FAO, through case studies on small-scale fisheries, develop an adopted EAF tool box with rapid appraisal techniques, participatory processes, conflict resolution, integrated resource, assessment and management, including co-management, and capacity-building.
91. Many Members reconfirmed their strong support for paragraph 39 of the report of the Twenty-fourth Session of COFI. Researches on the subject of interactions between marine mammals and fisheries were described. Many Members supported the need for continuing research and the further development of ecosystem models while other Members noted that EAF was wider than just predator/prey relations and possible mammal impacts. Some Members expressed the view that low priority be given to predator/prey relations, and their impact on fish resources, as opposed to other aspects of relevance, such as reduced bycatch, habitat protection, land-based impacts, climatic changes, etc. Some Members noted the primacy of the International Whaling Commission with respect to the role of whales in the marine environment and the strongly held view that discussions on whales in COFI detracted from the more important fisheries issues such as IUU fishing.
92. Many Members considered the Technical Guidelines an important step in implementing EAF while other Members noted their preliminary status. Several Members considered that the reference to various ecosystem manipulations including culling was not warranted for a range of reasons including uncertainty in ecosystem functioning. Several Members also expressed the view that the extension of the precautionary approach to include social or economic outcomes was not consistent with internationally accepted definitions including at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and reconfirmed at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) and were therefore unacceptable in their view.
93. The Committee supported the role of FAO in facilitating the process of adoption of the ecosystem approach as agreed during the WSSD. A range of additional activities were suggested, including clearer definition of the terminology, evaluation of its legal implications, implementation of case studies, better analysis of social and economic objectives, development of ecosystem-related indicators, reference points and decision rules and deeper analysis of bioecological issues. It was stressed that in undertaking these activities fishers should be seen as integral component of aquatic ecosystems, taking into account the social and economic impact. Many Members stressed the need for FAO to partner in this endeavour with other organizations, especially those within the UN system to further this work and improve the guidelines. It was also suggested that closer cooperation on the approach with regional fishery organizations would improve consensus and generate more sense of ownership of the Technical Guidelines on the part of those in charge of their implementation.
94. In that respect, the Secretariat informed the Committee of the ongoing cooperation with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission–Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (IOC-SCOR) Working Group on Quantitative Ecosystem Indicators for Fisheries Management. The Secretariat also confirmed that all comments made during this session of the Committee would be duly considered in the future process of improvement of the Guidelines.