The present status of many fishery resources around the world indicates that management practices need to be improved. An acceleration of the process of evolution of fisheries management and a broadening of its scope are required to take fully into account the explicit requirements of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCED Agenda 21, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the outcome of the International Conference on Responsible Fishing (Mexico, 6–8 May 1992), the outcome of the UN Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish stocks (New York, 1993–95), and the FAO International Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The uncertainty and risk resulting from the limitations in fisheries management systems and scientific information, as well as natural variability (including climate change) is progressively being recognized and should be taken into account by adopting more precautionary management strategies.
The need for precaution in management has been reflected in the precautionary principle and the precautionary approach, two concepts sometimes difficult to distinguish perfectly. The precautionary principle has suffered from lack of definition, extreme interpretations leading to moratoria and lack of consideration of the economic and social costs of its application. The precautionary approach has been more closely associated with the concept of sustainable development and sustainable use, recognizing that the diversity of ecological and socio-economic situations each may require different strategies. This concept has, therefore, a more acceptable “image” in the various development and management sectors and is considered more readily applicable to fisheries management.
An objective analysis of the sources and nature of the uncertainty, its potential consequences in terms of an error, its cost, and its potential reversibility, leads to the conclusion that the sustainable development of fisheries requires indeed a combination of approaches (i.e., corrective, preventive, or precautionary) and may even, in extreme cases, resort to the precautionary principle. Considering the range of uncertainty that affects various areas of fisheries and the magnitude of potential costs of errors that might be made, it is possible to represent the respective domains of application of these approaches on an uncertainty/cost diagram (Figure 5). While it is recognized that the position of the current fishery issues on such diagram may be sometimes a matter of debate and will vary from case to case, some of these issues, and the instruments available to address, them have been tentatively represented in Figures 6 and 7 respectively with a view to illustrate the proposed typology of approaches.
The preventive approach intends to actively prevent (avoid the occurrence of ) unwanted consequences of human action. It is justified and safely usable, irrespective of the cost of potential errors, when the uncertainty is so low (and the scientific and other understanding so comprehensive) that measures can be designed with a very large probability of success (e.g., of achieving what was intended) avoiding major drawbacks and, in conditions of full or very high reversibility, any negative impact. This approach relies on engineering research and deterministic science and is usually appropriate for micro-issues (e.g., improving gear selectivity, reducing environmental damage from land-based fish processing, engine exhausts fumes, or refrigerating equipment and improving compliance, etc.).
Figure 7. Positioning of currently used fishery regulations in relation to potential approaches on the uncertainty-cost diagram.
The corrective approach is empirical and intends to correct effectively the consequences of actions, the potential consequences of which were not considered a priori or disregarded as negligible. This approach is justified, irrespective of the level of uncertainty, when the cost of the potential errors are negligible, or low, and in any case much lower than the cost of avoiding the errors (cost-benefit analysis), and when the consequences are perfectly reversible or totally acceptable (even though not reversible). The approach consists in taking the best measures possible (the easiest to implement), not assuming perfect knowledge, but assuming that progress will be ensured through “trial and error”35 with no long-term risk for the resource. It would be also relevant for micro-issues (e.g., to improve vessel safety, gear selectivity, closed seasons, etc.).
The precautionary approach aims at reducing the probability of occurrence of bad events within acceptable limits and is used when the level of uncertainty and the potential costs are significant, when full reversibility may not be ensured (but AT LEAST partial reversibility36 is highly likely). It requires, inter alia, the maintenance of a flexible, resilient fishery system (including the fish stock, the associated species, the fleet and the management agency regulating it). It addresses meso-issues which are central to the management of the fishery system such as resources sustainability and recruitment overfishing, protection of non-target and endangered species, environmental management of aquaculture, development of new fisheries and maintenance of ecosystem productivity.
35Adaptive learning is recommended under the precautionary approach but it has applications across the entire uncertainty/cost diagram
36Partial reversibility is achieved when the system can be returned to a state (in terms of health or productivity) equivalent, but not identical, to the pristine state
The precautionary principle aims at avoiding irreversible damage and high costs to the resources (and society) in cases of high uncertainty (edging on ignorance). It corresponds to situations where scientific theories are not yet formed, or controversial and where the scientific process tends to lead to conflictual polarization instead of consensus. Under these circumstances, the scientific debate tends to be replaced by political lobbying and negotiation, often with a large contribution by the media and NGOs. This instrument would be used, in most cases, to deal with on macro- and mega-issues and where reversibility (even partial reversibility) is highly unlikely. There are few issues of this nature in fisheries, e.g., perhaps species introductions (whether voluntary and accidental). Some problems affecting fisheries directly, however, could require the application of the principle, e.g., the destruction of critical habitats by other sectors, the ozone depletion, and the global warming.
Close to the origin of the graph (on Figure 5), where both uncertainty and potential costs are low, the corrective and preventive approaches overlap significantly in a “neutral area” where both approaches could be justified. As a matter of fact, Figure 5 shows that the area of application of the four strategies overlap and the meaning of the often used expression “erring on the safe side” or “giving to the resource the benefit of doubt”, in this particular context, is that issues falling between two or more approaches should be addressed using the more precautionary approach.
The existing set of principles and guidelines agreed at international level, in the UN Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and in the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries relate in fact to the first three approaches indicated above. It appears therefore that the operational understanding of a “precautionary approach” lato sensu to fisheries in the inter-governmental quarters (and also of many NGOs) includes all the methodologies, instruments and devices which ensure that the consequences of human action on the resource and its environment are acceptable because either: (a) we know what to do to avoid the problems; (b) or the cost will be negligible and the error can be corrected, or else (c) we are conscious of limitations in data and act accordingly. The present state of fisheries indicate clearly that up to now, Governments have used corrective or “preventive” strategies in cases where more precaution was required.
The problem lies in using the proper approach for each type of issue. On the one hand, over-protecting the resource (by taking a highly precautionary approach) may have significant consequences in terms of foregone development options and could lead to economic and social chaos in fishing and related industries and communities and the fishery sector which rightly refuses to be assimilated to a polluting industry. On the other hand, being over-optimistic as to human capacity to regulate sustainably the production system for its benefit while preserving the options of future generations, could also have significant negative consequences for the resources and, ultimately, for fishing communities.
The real challenge in the implementation of the precautionary approach to fisheries, assuming that Governments' political will and commitment is granted, is therefore to distinguish in which area of the conceptual uncertainty/cost diagram an issue falls when a decision is required. This is an area where fishery science can help and towards which fishery research agendas should be directed. Section 5 of this paper and the “Lysekil Guidelines” (FAO, 1995) provide useful indications for that purpose but a lot more work is required to allow all countries, at all levels of research capacity, to apply the approach effectively.
The principle of precautionary action, as traditionally stated, required fisheries management authorities to take action where there is a risk of severe and irreversible damage to the resources and the environment, even in the absence of certainty about the impact or the causal relationships, giving the resource the benefit of the doubt, with due consideration to the social and economic consequences. The broader precautionary approach described in this document, and transpiring from the agreements being developed in the international fishery arenas (particularly in the UN and FAO), consists in applying systematically an appropriate level of caution in research, technology development and transfer, and management, with a view to avoid situations in which the use of the precautionary principle stricto sensu would be unavoidable. This line of action changes the status of precaution from an exceptional requirement to an integral part of good management practice.
During the last three years, the concept of precautionary action has become more familiar to fishery management authorities and NGOs who have significantly contributed to the awareness-raising process. The fishery sector's commitment to the approach, however, will still require a lot of effort from both Governments, NGOs and FAO. The approach is now embedded in the outcome of the UN Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks and in the FAO International Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, correcting its omission from the 1982 Convention and the 1984 FAO Conference on Fisheries Management and Development. The detailed Guidelines on the Precautionary Approach to Capture Fisheries, now available in support of the FAO Code of Conduct, will help in promoting its application by States and industry, assisted by the NGOs. In addition, the approach offers the fishing sector the opportunity to request a more responsible behaviour from all those non-fishery sectors which are damaging the marine ecosystem.
The requirement laid down in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea for the “best scientific evidence available” remains the first condition for effective and equitable management and the concept of precaution does not exempt fishing States and management authorities from their responsibilities to build up the necessary scientific information and cooperation. It seems evident that, in most cases, the State, through its research and management agencies, will continue to be responsible for the establishment of the databases, research and the forecast and assessment of the impacts of its fishery policy (particularly in relation to its coastal and small-scale fisheries). However, in some instances, e.g., in a situation of high potential risk and lack or inadequacy of information, the onus of scientific proof could be put be on industry, e.g., in the form of an Environmental Impact Assessment or pilot project. Expertise is required to support the development of national, regional and international norms of good conduct and advise on the precautionary nature of a proposal in particular situations37. The active participation of industry is essential even though experience has shown the dangers of normative systems controlled by industry (Hermitte and Noiville, 1993) and the State must be the warrant of the adequacy of the advisory and decision-making system.
It would not be prudent to forget that precautionary management measures have often been advocated in the past but they have rarely been implemented because of resistance due to their potential short-term costs. The same causes could produce the same effects in the future and it may, therefore, take a decade or so to see the approach as widely applied as recommended in the UN and FAO guiding documents.
37A gear might be innocuous in a given ecosystem, under normal conditions, but not advisable in others (e.g, in an ecosystem damaged by other factors than fishing, a series of droughts, an ecosystem in a rebuilding phase, etc.)
Until now, the rationale used (mainly by NGOs) in support of a precautionary approach referred to the risks to the resource and its environment. However, following the economic and social disaster in the Northwest Atlantic, the issue of socio-economic risk to the fishing sector and communities may start taking more relevance as fishermen and governments realize that “future generations” are not only those of the next decades but also those of tomorrow.
The view has become generally accepted, if not yet implemented, in a wide range of fora, that a generalized application of the precautionary approach at all levels of the fishery system, and at all times, is preferable to corrective costly measures rendered necessary by irresponsible development. An effective application of the precautionary approach requires, therefore, a large range of more or less difficult measures throughout the fishery system, its research structure and programmes, its development options and programmes and its management regimes and institutions. The practical guidance contained in the various sections of this paper represent a comprehensive “toolbox” from which elements can be selected to elaborate a precautionary strategy adapted to the various situations. The precautionary level of the strategies so designed will depend on the number and types of precautionary elements selected, the local biological and environmental, economic and institutional conditions, and the type of fishery. The degree of precaution achieved could be assessed as suggested by Kirkwood and Smith (in press).
In summary, a precautionary strategy would have to be consistent with the internationally agreed principles of sustainable development included in the 1982 Convention, the Rio Declaration, the UN Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and in the FAO International Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and would, inter alia:
In designing precautionary management strategies, it will be important to realize that fishermen are part of the ecosystem (as top predators) and that without an appropriate consideration of the risk to their community (both in the short- and long-term), the level of compliance will be low and enforcement excessively costly. This does not mean that when necessary conservation measures appear to be costly they should not be applied. It means, however that, whenever possible, precautionary objectives should be met, minimizing to the extent compatible with these objectives, the costs to the fishing community (including through financial support or compensation). This aspect is of particular relevance for small-scale fisheries and traditional coastal communities which have usually few alternatives to fishing.
My grateful thanks go to my friends and colleagues J.J. Maguire and D. Bartley who have accepted the burden of carefully examining this paper and provided critical and constructive comments and suggestions.
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DRAFT FAO CODE OF CONDUCT FOR RESPONSIBLE FISHERIES
(Extract from Article 6: Fisheries Management)
6.5 Precautionary Approach
6.5.1 In order to reduce the risk of damage to the marine environment and living aquatic resources, the precautionary approach should be widely applied.
6.5.2 In applying the precautionary approach, fisheries management authorities should take into account, inter alia, uncertainties with respect to the size, productivity and state of the stocks, management reference points, levels and distributions of fishing mortality and the impact of fishing activities on associated and dependent species including discard mortality, as well as climatic, environmental, social and economic conditions.
6.5.3 The precautionary approach should be based on the best scientific evidence available and include all appropriate techniques aimed at setting stock-specific minimum standards for conservation and management. Fishery management authorities should be more cautious when information is poor. They should determine precautionary management reference points and apply precautionary measures consistent with management objectives.
6.5.4 When precautionary or limit reference points are approached, measures should be taken to ensure that they will not be exceeded. These measures should where possible be pre-negotiated. If such reference points are exceeded, recovery plans should be implemented immediately to restore the stocks.
6.5.5 In the case of new or exploratory fisheries, conservative measures, including precautionary catch or effort limits, should be established as soon as possible in cooperation with those initiating the fishery and should remain in force until there are sufficient data to allow assessment of any increase in fishery intensity on the long-term sustainability of stocks and associated ecosystems.
EXTRACT FROM THE NEGOTIATING TEXT OF THE UN CONFERENCE ON STRADDLING FISH STOCKS AND HIGHLY MIGRATORY FISH STOCKS
(A/CONF.164/13, Article 5, 30 March 1994)
5. In order to protect the environment and the living marine resources, the precautionary approach shall be applied widely by States to fisheries management and exploitation, in accordance with the following provisions:
states shall act so as to obtain and share the best scientific evidence available in support of conservation and management decision-making. States shall take into account uncertainties with respect to the size and productivity of the targeted stock levels and distribution of fishing mortality, and the impact of fishing activities on associated and dependent species, as well as other relevant factors, including climatic, oceanic and environment changes;
the absence of adequate scientific information shall not be used as a reason for failing to take strict measures to protect the resources;
use of the precautionary approach shall include all appropriate techniques, including, where necessary, the application of moratoria;
in cases where the status of stocks is of concern, strict conservation and management measures shall be applied and shall be subject to enhanced monitoring in order to review continuously the status of stock(s) and the efficacy of the measures to facilitate revision of such measures in the light of new scientific evidence, and
in the case of new or exploratory fisheries, conservative catch and/or effort limits shall be established as soon as possible and shall remain in force until there are sufficient data to allow assessment of the impact of the fishery on the long-term sustainability of the stocks and associated ecosystems.
EXTRACT FROM THE NEGOTIATING TEXT OF THE UN CONFERENCE ON STRADDLING FISH STOCKS AND HIGHLY MIGRATORY FISH STOCKS
(A/CONF.164/13/Rev.1 of 30 March 1994)
B. Precautionary Approaches to Fisheries Management
In order to protect the environment and the living marine resources, consistent with the Convention, the precautionary approach shall be applied widely by States and by regional or sub-regional fisheries management organizations or arrangements to fisheries conservation, management and exploitation, in accordance with the following provisions:
in order to improve conservation and management decision-making, States shall obtain and share the best scientific information available and develop new techniques for dealing with uncertainty. States shall take into account, inter alia, uncertainties, including with respect to the size and productivity of the stocks, management reference points, stock condition in relation to such reference points, levels and distributions of fishing mortality and the impact of fishing activities on associated and dependent species, as well as climatic, oceanic, environmental changes and socio-economic conditions;
in managing fish stocks, States should consider the associated ecosystems. They should develop data collection and research programmes to assess the impact of fishing harvesting on non-target species and their environment, adopt plans as necessary to ensure the conservation of non-target species and consider the protection of habitats of special concern;
the absence of adequate scientific information shall not be used as a reason for postponing or failing to take measures to protect target and non-target species and their environment;
the precautionary approach shall, based upon the best scientific evidence available, include all appropriate techniques and be aimed at setting stock-specific minimum standards for conservation and management. States shall be more cautious when information is poor. States should determine precautionary management reference points taking into account the guidelines contained in Annex 2 (see below), and the action to be taken if they are exceeded. When precautionary management reference points are approached, measures shall be taken to ensure that they will not be exceeded. If such reference points are exceeded, recovery plans shall be implemented immediately in order to restore the stock(s) in accordance with pre-agreed courses of action;
in cases where the status of stocks is of concern, strict conservation and management measures shall be applied and shall be subject to enhanced monitoring in order to review continuously the status of stocks and the efficacy of the measures to facilitate revision of such measures in the light of new scientific evidence, and
in the case of new or exploratory fisheries, conservative measures including catch and/or effort limits shall be established as soon as possible in cooperation with those initiating the fishery and shall remain in force until there are sufficient data to allow assessment of the impact of the fishery on the long-term sustainability of the stocks and associated ecosystems.
Suggested guidelines for applying precautionary reference points in managing straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks. (Annex 2 of A/CONF.164/13/Rev.1)
Management strategies should seek to maintain and restore populations of harvested stocks at levels with previously agreed precautionary reference points. These strategies should include measures which can be can be adjusted rapidly as reference points are approached.
Conservation and management objectives should be stock-specific and take account of the characteristics of fisheries exploiting the stock.
Distinct reference points are used to monitor progress against conservation and management objectives. Reference points should incorporate all relevant sources of uncertainty. When information for determining reference points for a fishery is poor or absent, provisional reference points should be set. In such situations, the fishery should be subject to enhanced monitoring so as to revise reference points in the light of improved information as soon as possible.
Reference points related to conservation should be chosen to warn against over-exploitation. Management strategies using such reference points should ensure that the risk of exceeding them is low. In this context, Maximum Sustainable Yield should be viewed as a minimum international standard. Conservation-related reference points should ensure that fishing mortality does not exceed and that stock biomass is maintained above, the level needed to produce the Maximum Sustainable Yield. For already depleted stocks, the biomass, which can produce Maximum Sustainable Yield, can serve as an initial rebuilding target.
Management-related reference points provide an indicator as to when and how quickly maximum allowable levels of stock removals are being approached. Management action should ensure that such reference points, on average, are not exceeded.
DRAFT AGREEMENT FOR THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE PROVISIONS OF THE UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE LAW OF THE SEA OF 10 DECEMBER 1982 RELATING TO THE CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT OF STRADDLING FISH STOCKS AND HIGHLY MIGRATORY FISH STOCKS
Article 6: The Application of the Precautionary Approach
States shall apply the precautionary approach widely to conservation, management and exploitation of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks in order to protect the living marine resources and preserve the marine environment.
States shall be more cautious when information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate. The absence of adequate scientific information shall not be used as a reason for postponing or failing to take conservation and management measures.
In applying the precautionary approach, States shall:
improve decision-making for fishery resource conservation and management by obtaining and sharing the best scientific information available and implementing improved techniques for dealing with risk and uncertainty;
apply the guidelines set out in Annex 2 and determine, on the basis of the best scientific information available, stock-specific reference points and the action to be taken if they are exceeded;
take into account, inter alia, uncertainties relating to the size and productivity of the stock(s), reference points, stock condition in relation to such reference points, levels and distributions of fishing mortality and the impact of fishing activities on non-target and associated or dependent species, as well as oceanic, environmental and socio-economic conditions, and
develop data collection and research programmes to assess the impact of fishing on non-target and associated or dependent species and their environment, adopt plans as necessary to ensure the conservation of such species and protect habitats of special concern.
States shall take measures to ensure that, when reference points are approached, they will not be exceeded. In the event that such reference points are exceeded, States shall, without delay, take the additional conservation and management action determined under paragraph 3(b) to restore the stock(s).
If a natural phenomenon has a significant adverse impact on the status of straddling fish stock(s) or highly migratory fish stock(s), the relevant coastal States and States fishing those stock(s) on the high seas shall, directly or through the relevant subregional or regional fisheries management organization or arrangement, cooperate for the adoption, without delay, of emergency conservation and management measures to ensure that fishing activity does not exacerbate the adverse impact of the natural phenomenon on the stock(s). Such emergency measures shall be temporary in nature and shall be based on the best scientific evidence available.
Where the status of target stocks or non-target or associated or dependent species is of concern, States shall subject those stocks and species to enhanced monitoring in order to review regularly their status and the efficacy of conservation and management measures and shall revise those measures in the light of new information.
For new or exploratory fisheries, States shall establish conservative conservation and management measures as soon as possible, including, inter alia, catch and effort limits. Such measures shall remain in force until there are sufficient data to allow assessment of the impact of the fishery on the long-term sustainability of the stocks, whereupon conservation and management measures based on that assessment shall be implemented, which, if appropriate, allow for the gradual development of the fishery.
REPORT OF THE WORKING GROUP ON REFERENCE POINTS FOR FISHERIES MANAGEMENT38
(A/CONF.164/WP.2 of 24 March 1994)
Technical Guidelines on Biological Reference Points
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (articles 6 and 119) obliges States to take measures, based on the best scientific evidence available, to maintain or restore harvested stocks at a level which can produce MSY as modified by relevant environmental and economic factors. In order to accomplish this goal, MSY should be adopted as a limit reference point rather than target reference point as described below. However, for already depleted stocks the biomass which can produce MSY may serve as an initial rebuilding target.
Many fish stocks around the world are currently depleted. Improvements in fishing technology have allowed fleet fishing power to increase rapidly and to move quickly from one fishery to another. Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) can often be exceeded in the early period of a fishery, resulting in resource depletion, associated ecological changes and serious economic problems. Although this is largely due to the lack of efficient controls, enforcement and compliance, the establishment of a set of biological reference points would contribute to better and more precautionary management.
Distinction should be made between limit reference points and target reference points. Limit reference points are boundaries which constrain utilization within safe biological limits and beyond which resource rebuilding programmes are required. Target reference points guide policy makers in resource utilization.
Reference points for a given stock are developed from biological models which need to take into account the best possible estimates of all sources of mortality and should incorporate the special biological characteristics of each stock. Therefore, to develop reference points, stocks must be regarded as a biological unit throughout their range of distribution. Information on the state of the resource should cover the entire biological unit for comparison with reference points. This will require the identification of biological units for straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks.
As pollution from land and sea-based sources affects fishery resources productivity and resilience, as well as fishery product safety and quality, management should include not only reference points and measures to control fishing, but also action to promote the reduction and, where feasible, the elimination of pollution and degradation of critical habitats.
38This document is the report of the Working Group on Reference Points for Fisheries Management. The Group agreed that all concepts contained in this document reflect its consensus. However, there was insufficient time available to polish the drafting of paragraph 4 in this report
The documents prepared by FAO for the Conference on the precautionary approach and reference points for fisheries management, contains useful information and further guidance on these subjects and should be used in conjunction with the present document.
2. DEVELOPMENT OF MANAGEMENT OBJECTIVES
Prior to deciding upon a set of reference points, management objectives must be agreed upon. Reference points are not management objectives; they simply serve as a guide to aid managers in choosing from the range of options open to them.
The concept of optimal utilization in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea includes the importance of economic and environmental factors as a basis for setting fisheries management objectives. However, optimal utilization does not have a simple technical definition and cannot be addressed with a single reference point. Therefore, a set of reference points is needed to take these factors into account, on the basis of the best scientific evidence available and with an explicit recognition of uncertainty.
Objectives must be set explicitly in order to be able to assess the success of the management procedures. The setting of objectives should, whenever possible, include the specification of the relative importance of different objectives in the overall policy. As objectives are often not explicitly stated, scientific advice must aim at providing an analysis of management options and their implications for the fishery.
There are a wide variety of complex objectives in the development of management policy for straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks. States may have many, sometimes competing, management objectives. However a fundamental objective for all concerned must be the long-term conservation and utilization of fishery resources and, where feasible, other species of concern. That objective can be achieved, inter alia, through a precautionary approach to management of fisheries resources in their ecosystems.
3. TARGET AND LIMIT REFERENCE POINTS
A reference point is an estimated value derived from an agreed scientific procedure and an agreed model to which corresponds a state of the resource and of the fishery and which can be used as a guide for fisheries management. Reference points should be stock-specific to account for the reproductive capacity and resilience of each stock and are usually expressed as fishing mortality rates or biomass levels.
Two types of reference points, limit reference points and target reference points, should be used. Limit reference points are designed for conservation and warn against the risk of over exploitation. Target reference points are designed to indicate when an objective is being approached.
Agreement on the appropriate technically defined set of reference points is a prerequisite for a common approach to the management of straddling or highly migratory resources. By introducing limit reference points for triggering pre-agreed management responses, action may be facilitated when a problem occurs.
The fishery management strategy should be developed in a multispecies context and describe the action that is taken as the resource status changes. Management strategies need to be developed for each fishery, including newly developing fisheries and account for the biological characteristics of the resources by the use of appropriate reference points. These management strategies should take into account species belonging to the same ecosystem or dependent on, or associated with, a target species.
Provisional limit and target reference points can usually be established, even when data are poor or lacking by analogy with other similar and better known fisheries. In all cases, reference points should be updated as additional information becomes available.
For broad application of the precautionary approach to stock conservation, it is important to agree on a minimum international guideline for management. With respect to the use of reference points, an appropriate minimum guideline is to apply MSY as a limit on fisheries. Fishing mortality should not be permitted to exceed the level that would produce MSY and stock biomass should be maintained above the level needed to produce MSY. The choice of target reference points should be made such that there is low risk of exceeding the MSY limit reference point after accounting for all major sources of uncertainty. This guidance should be viewed as minimum and not preclude more conservative management strategies.
4. ACCOUNTING FOR UNCERTAINTY
To account for uncertainty, management strategies should be so designed that they will maintain or restore the stock at a level consistent with the selected reference points. Uncertainty always occurs in the advice with respect to the current position of the fishery in relation with the reference points. It is vital that uncertainty be quantified and used explicitly in the analysis.
The major sources of uncertainty are incomplete and/or inaccurate fishery data, natural variability in the environment and imperfect specification of models of the resources. Simulation studies which incorporate the expected variability and bias in input parameters and uncertainty concerning the factors controlling stocks should be used to scientifically evaluate management strategies. Results must be interpreted in a probabilistic way to reflect these uncertainties.
For a limit reference point, management actions should be taken if analysis indicates that the probability of exceeding the limit is higher than a pre-agreed level. If a stock falls below a limit reference point, or is at risk of falling below it, action on the fishery is required to facilitate the rebuilding of the biomass whether or not the decrease is caused by the fishery or is related to environmental fluctuations.
The estimates of the reference points should be continuously revised as fisheries evolve and new information is obtained, particularly in the case of stocks subject to strong environmental fluctuations. Both biological and environmental studies will be necessary to facilitate this updating.
To be amenable to scientific evaluation, management plans should specify, inter alia, the data to be collected and used for management and their precision, the methods of stock assessment, as well as the decision rules for determining and initiating management measures.
5. LINKAGE TO MANAGEMENT
In order to estimate reference points, states should cooperate to promote the collection of data necessary for the assessment, conservation and sustainable use of the marine living resources and develop and share analytical and predictive tools. Precaution should be exerted at all levels of management in, defining data requirements, developing stock assessment methods and elaborating management measures. The need for precaution requires the development of an effective capacity to rapidly take action for resource conservation and management. To facilitate this, the selection of reference points should be flexible to allow for practical approaches to management.
To design effective management strategies, the management process needs to be clarified. It should include the specification of management objectives, development of limit and target reference points, agreement on management actions and assessment of management performance with respect to the accepted reference points. Management steps should ensure that target reference points are not exceeded, on average, and that the risk of exceeding limit reference points is low.
In some fisheries, the management approach used has had the undesirable effect of deteriorating the quality of the data collected. Management procedures should specifically be designed to reduce uncertainties in the data.
EXTRACT FROM THE GUIDELINES ON THE PRECAUTIONARY APPROACH TO CAPTURE FISHERIES
(Lysekil, Sweden, 6–13 June 1995)
The Technical Consultation on the Precautionary Approach to Capture Fisheries, held in Lysekil, Sweden, 6–13 June 1995 (FAO, 1995), elaborated the following statement which could provide a useful operational summary of the approach:
Within the framework outlined in Article 15 of the UNCED Rio Declaration, the precautionary approach to fisheries recognises that fisheries systems are slowly reversible, poorly controllable, not well understood, and subject to changing human values. The precautionary approach involves the application of prudent foresight. Taking account of the uncertainties in fisheries systems, and the need to take action with incomplete knowledge, it requires, inter alia:
consideration of the needs of future generations and avoidance of changes that are not potentially reversible;
prior identification of undesirable outcomes and measures that will promptly avoid or correct them;
that any necessary corrective measures are initiated without delay, and that they should achieve their purpose promptly, on a timescale not exceeding two or three decades;
that where the likely impact of resource use is uncertain, priority should be given to conserving the productive capacity of the resource;
that harvesting and processing capacity should be commensurate with estimated sustainable levels of resource and that increases in capacity should be further constrained when resource productivity is highly uncertain;
all fishing activities must have prior management authorization and be subject to periodic review;
an established legal and institutional framework for fishery management, within which management plans that implement the above points are instituted for each fishery, and
appropriate placement of the burden of proof by adhering to the requirements above.