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What is EAF and what are the benefits?

Considerable progress was made in the 1980s and 1990s as efforts were made to regulate fisheries to ensure sustainable use. At the time, the focus was almost exclusively on a single-species approach. Fishery studies tended to assume that the fishery and the target species existed in isolation from the rest of the ecosystem. As pressure on resources and ecosystems increased, the shortcomings of this single-species approach became more obvious. We now know that fishing activity not only impacts on the target stock, but on other parts of the ecosystem as well. For example, fishing methods are never selective and in addition to the target species, other species are inevitably caught. Some of this so called bycatch may be valuable and be retained, while some bycatch may simply be discarded. The bycatch of fisheries can include endangered or threatened species such as sharks, seabirds and turtles.

EAF's main purpose 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 ecosystems.

Another major weakness of the single-species approach is that the target stocks are not only affected by fishing; they are also affected by other factors such as loss of critical habitat (e.g. through coastal zone development or pollution). They will also be affected by changes in abundance of predators and prey which could be caused by other fisheries, and they can be heavily affected by climatic changes.

An ecosystem is a functional unit consisting of a collection of plants, animals (including humans), micro-organisms and non-living components of the environment, and the interactions between them.

These realizations have led to global calls for the implementation of EAF. The key objective of EAF is the sustainable use of the whole system and not just targeted species. The need to sustain or improve the condition of ecosystems and their productivity is essential for maintaining or increasing the quality and value of fisheries production. EAF also recognizes that humans are an integral component of the ecosystem and that the many (sometimes competing) interests of people in fisheries and marine ecosystems have to be addressed.

EAF represents the marriage of two different perspectives, namely ecosystem management and fisheries management. As a result, while EAF is the responsibility of fishery agencies, its full implementation will require collaboration with and cooperation from those agencies responsible for managing other activities that impact on the aquatic ecosystem (e.g. coastal zone development, offshore mining and oil and gas extraction). For EAF to be fully realized, it is important that these agencies and stakeholders interact and work together. This handbook focuses mainly on those actions that are within the mandate of fisheries agencies.


The purpose of an ecosystem approach to fisheries 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 ecosystems.

The key principles addressed by EAF are as follows:

The wider principles identified by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for an ecosystem approach in any environment, terrestrial or aquatic, are also useful and are shown in Box 1. All the CBD principles are relevant and important in EAF as well, and are consistent with the FAO list of principles in the previous paragraph.

Convention on Biological Diversity
Principles of the Ecosystem Approach
Principle 1: The objectives of management of land, water and living resources are a matter of societal choice.
Principle 2: Management should be decentralized to the lowest appropriate level.
Principle 3: Ecosystem managers should consider the effects (actual or potential) of their activities on adjacent and other ecosystems.
Principle 4: Recognizing potential gains from management, there is usually a need to understand and manage the ecosystem in an economic context. Any such ecosystem-management programme should:
a) reduce those market distortions that adversely affect biological diversity;
b) align incentives to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable use;
c) internalize costs and benefits in the given ecosystem to the extent feasible.
Principle 5: Conservation of ecosystem structure and functioning, in order to maintain ecosystem services, should be a priority target of the ecosystem approach.
Principle 6: Ecosystems must be managed within the limits of their functioning.
Principle 7: The ecosystem approach should be undertaken at the appropriate spatial and temporal scales.
Principle 8: Recognizing the varying temporal scales and lag-effects that characterize ecosystem processes, objectives for ecosystem management should be set for the long term.
Principle 9: Management must recognize that change is inevitable.
Principle 10: The ecosystem approach should seek the appropriate balance between, and integration of, conservation and use of biological diversity.
Principle 11: The ecosystem approach should consider all forms of relevant information, including scientific and indigenous and local knowledge, innovations and practices.
Principle 12: The ecosystem approach should involve all relevant sectors of society and scientific disciplines.
More detail can be obtained from Decision V/6 of the fifth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity at

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