EAF-Nansen Programme

New practical guide on legislating for an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries


In the last decade, the implementation of the ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) through legal and policy instruments has been promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in various activities, including the preparation of studies, tools and guides. One of the more recent tools is A Practical Guide on Legislating for an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries,that was prepared, under the framework of the EAF-Nansen Programme, by FAO’s Development Law Service (LEGN) in collaboration with FAO’s Marine and Inland Fisheries Branch (FIAF).

The ecosystem approach to fisheries is a holistic approach that recognizes the need to maintain ecosystem resources sustainably while recognizing human intervention as part of the process. In 2003, the EAF was adopted by FAO’s Committee on Fisheries (COFI) as the appropriate and practical approach to fully implement the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, given that it deals not only with the ecological consequences of fishing, but also with the social and economic implications related to the management and institutional arrangements of fisheries.

A How-to Guide on legislating for an ecosystem approach to
fisheries (FAO, 2016). © FAO

The EAF has been an integral part of the work of the Nansen Programme since 2006. It started with the implementation of the project “Strengthening the Knowledge Base for and Implementing an Ecosystem Approach to Marine Fisheries in Developing Countries” focused on the development of national and regional frameworks for the implementation of the EAF management and to acquire additional knowledge on their marine ecosystems for their use in planning and monitoring. As a follow-up of this project, FAO initiated the implementation of the programme “Supporting the Application of the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management considering Climate Change and Pollution Impacts”, which is the current phase of the EAF-Nansen Programme running from 2016-2021.

In April 2020, A practical guide on Legislating for and EAF was launched, building on the How-to Guide on Legislating for an EAF from 2016 that brought about some clarity to what the EAF entails in terms of law and policy, and identified 17 key EAF components and associated recommendations which reflect what legal and policy frameworks should provide for when implementing an EAF. This additional diagnostic tool was developed as a complement to the How-to Guide to assist legal practitioners, policy-makers and fisheries managers in assessing  whether or how relevant national policies and legislation are implementing the EAF.

The new diagnostic tool provides an overview of the essential EAF legal requirements and guides the user in identifying gaps and provides options in addressing such gaps, while taking into account the fact that it may be used by stakeholders at all levels of governance and considering the differentiated technical capacity of the countries. It provides an EAF legal checklist to be used to examine  selected policy and legal instruments to determine whether legal requirements for implementing an EAF are present.

Filling in the EAF legal checklist will indicate the specific strengths and gaps that the assessed policy and legal instruments have with respect to an EAF. The strengths can support the ongoing implementation of an EAF while the gaps can inform future policy and/or legislative reform, either through amendments of existing policy and/or legal instruments, or development of new policy and/or legal instruments for better EAF implementation.

Blaise Kuemlangan, Chief, LEGN stated that the EAF diagnostic tool is a complement to the other assessment tools and guidance materials for mainstreaming EAF in fisheries governance frameworks. “The diagnostic tool will be another useful tool in the legal reviewer’s toolbox to strengthen fisheries legal frameworks by incorporating EAF requirements and contribute towards sustainable fisheries”, Kuemlangan noted.  

This new diagnostic tool was tested in an online mock training, organized and delivered by LEGN in collaboration with FIAF and the EAF-Nansen Programme. Taking place over the course of two days, 28-29 April 2020, the training provided an overview of the legal considerations for an EAF, introduced the new tool to FAO colleagues, guided them on how to use it and tested the tool through the carrying out of exercises. This training was also an opportunity to collect comments and views from FAO colleagues with the view to improve other training materials which will be part of the course curricula of future regional and country workshops.

One of the participants in the online mock training, Tarub Bahri, Fishery Resource Office, FIAF shared her thoughts on how she found the training program both enjoyable and useful. “I enjoyed the way the course was organized with a mix of lectures, individual work and group discussions. I think the balance and the pace were just perfect and maximized our attention/focus. As a fisheries biologist, it was enriching to be exposed to the legal prospective of fisheries management, get acquainted to new concepts and challenged to get out of my comfort zone”, Bahri stated.

Participants at the EAF online mock training taking place on Zoom on 28-29 April 2020.

Gunnstein Bakke from the Directorate of Fisheries in Norway, who also participated in the online mock training, expressed his satisfaction in seeing the realisation of the EAF diagnostic tool and in being able to contribute to its refinement. “The assessment tool should be made available for use as soon as possible so that countries can begin to use it in strengthening their policies and laws from an EAF perspective”, said Bakke.

With the EAF guidance materials and assessment tools in hand, the EAF Nansen Programme will convene a series of regional workshops to raise awareness and disseminate the knowledge about the EAF, its policy and legal considerations and importance, and enhance the participants’ technical capacity in assessing the implementation of the EAF in national legislation and policies.  Specific support to review and enhance legislation in selected countries upon their request is envisaged, in particular to align national laws and legislation with EAF using the new diagnostic tool.

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