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The EAF, as interpreted by FAO (2003) does not represent a revolution (in the sense of a rupture with the current fisheries management paradigm). It is rather an important new phase in a process of continuous evolution of fisheries-related institutions. While the specific terms "ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF)" or "ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM)" may not yet be common in international instruments, regional conventions or arrangements and national legislation, the underlying principles and conceptual objectives examined above appear in many of them (Kimball, 2001; Aqorau, 2003).

The institutional foundations of EAF are to be found in the numerous instruments and events which, during at least the last three decades, reflected a growing societal concern for our degrading environment. Selecting the most significant ones among them is partly subjective. Annex 2 contains the list of international events and instruments that we have selected as most relevant in paving the way to the ecosystem approach to management of the environment as well as of fisheries. These events and instruments materialize the progressive building up of institutional strength in parallel with progress in the understanding of the ecosystem functioning and of human institutions created to conserve or use them in a sustainable manner.

The two main roots of EAF are the UN Conference on Human Environment in 1972 and the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea adopted in 1982, two historical institutional processes from which the concept of sustainable fisheries development emerged. A number of international events have preceded, accompanied and followed the adoption of the 1982 Convention and UNCED and have contributed to the progressive emergence of the EAF paradigm. They are briefly examined below (see also Annex 2).

The FAO Technical Conference on Marine Pollution and its Effects on Living Resources and Fishing, Rome, 1970, was an early expression of the concern for land-based sources of pollution and degradation.

The UN Conference on Human Environment, Stockholm, 1972, dealt with the environmental aspects of natural resources management, stressing "the right of Man to modify the environment for its development and the dangers behind the huge capacity developed to do so". It stressed concepts central to the ecosystem management concept in general and to EAF in particular, such as people's participation, resource limitation, environmental degradation, demography, planning and management, institutions, role of science and technology, international collaboration and equity.

The FAO Technical Conference on Fishery Management and Development, Vancouver, 1972 (Stevenson, 1973), stressed both the problems of overfishing and of environmental degradation from non-fishery sources. It also called for new management approaches based on precaution and addressing multispecies problems. It proposed to design the new fisheries management into the broader framework of ocean management.

The 1980 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which lead to the establishment of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), is usually considered a precursor of the ecosystem approach to fisheries. Its provisions require that any harvesting and associated activities must be conducted in accordance with the following principles of conservation (from Kimball, 2001):

  1. A decrease in the size of any harvested population to levels below those which ensure its stable recruitment should be prevented. For this purposes its size should not be allowed to fall below a level close to that which ensures the greatest net annual increment.
  2. The ecological relationships between harvested, dependent and related populations should be maintained, and depleted populations should be restored to the levels defined in 1 above.
  3. Changes in the marine ecosystem which are not potentially reversible over two or three decades should be prevented or the risk of these changes should be minimized.

The evolution of the ecosystem approach in the CCAMLR context has been reviewed and analysed by Constable et al. (2000) in relation to the use of a precautionary approach, bycatch management, ecosystem impacts, etc. concluding that CCAMLR, which has not been able to conserve some of its most valuable resources, has still to face the real test in its ecosystem approach.

The 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea formulated inter alia the basis for conventional fisheries management. It deals with maximum sustainable yield, the need for restoration of depleted populations, the interdependence of stocks (e.g. in Art. 61.3) and the issue of associated and dependent species (Art. 61.4 and 119.1.b). In addition, it stresses the obligation to protect and preserve the environment (Part XXII, Art. 192 and 193).

The World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED, 1984-1987) and the "Brundtland Report" (Our common future, WCED, 1987) further developed the concept of sustainable development. It stressed, inter alia, the concepts of intergenerational equity, sustainable use, prior environmental assessments, prior consultation, precaution and liability, cooperation on transboundary environmental problems and natural resources. The link between sustainable development and ecosystem-based management is illustrated by the definition of sustainable fishing adopted by the US Committee on Ecosystem Management for Sustainable Marine Fisheries, which defined it as "fishing activities that do not cause or lead to undesirable changes in biological and economic productivity, biological diversity, or ecosystem structure and functioning from one human generation to the next. Fishing is sustainable when it can be conducted over the long term at an acceptable level of biological and economic productivity without leading to ecological changes that foreclose options for future generations." (US National Research Council, 1998).

The related concept of "Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD)" was adopted in the early 1990s in Australia in the wake of UNCED (Commonwealth of Australia, 1992) to emphasize the importance of the environment to long-term survival and to ensure that there was a balanced approach in dealing with environmental, social and economic issues. It was defined as "Using, conserving and enhancing the community's resources so that ecological processes, on which life depends, are maintained, and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased". This definition emphasizes further the importance of the environment to long-term survival and the need for balance in dealing with environmental, social and economic issues. The ESD approach aims at three key objectives: (1) to enhance individual and community well-being and welfare by following a path of economic development that safeguards the welfare of future generations; (2) to provide for equity within and between generations; and (3) to protect biological diversity and maintain essential ecological processes and life-support systems.

The UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, 1992) completed the work of the WCED, developing Agenda 21 as a basis for implementation. It led to the adoption of a number of conventions and agreements of relevance to EAF, such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Biodiversity Convention and the UN Fish Stock Agreement. The Rio Declaration puts human beings "at the centre of concerns" (Principle 1) and recognizes the sovereign rights to exploit resources (Principle 2), as well as the responsibility to do so without damaging the environment beyond the EEZ (Principle 2). It recognizes, inter alia, the need to: cater for future generations (Principle 3); integrate environmental protection in development (Principle 4); eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption (Principle 8); encourage public participation (Principle 10); widely apply the precautionary approach, internalize environmental costs (Principle 16); the need to apply the Polluter Pays principle and undertake environmental impact assessment (Principle 17); the role of women (Principle 20) and indigenous communities (Principle 22); and the need for peaceful conflict resolution (Principle 26).

The 1992 UNCED Agenda 21 takes an ecosystem approach to ocean management. Its Chapter 17 calls for "new approaches to marine and coastal area management and development which is ... integrated in content... precautionary and anticipatory in ambit". It recognizes that use of marine resources and environmental protection are inseparable, and that integrated management is necessary to protect both. It addresses in detail the integrated management and sustainable development of coastal areas (Programme A), marine environmental protection (Programme B), sustainable use and conservation of marine living resources in the high seas (Programme C) and in areas under national jurisdiction (Programme D). It also addresses uncertainties related to natural variability of the marine environment and climate change (Programme E). Programmes C and D are particularly relevant for fisheries. They provide for, inter alia, strengthening of conventional management (to eliminate overfishing) as well as multispecies management, associated and dependent species, relations between populations, restoration of depleted stocks, improvement of selectivity and reduction of discards, protection of endangered species and habitats, prohibition of destructive fishing, and the role of science.

The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) elaborates the core principles of multiple-use management of biodiversity. It emphasizes the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits. Under the Convention, parties have the right to exploit and use biological resources and have an obligation to manage activities that may threaten biodiversity, regardless of where those effects may occur, and to collaborate where these effects occur on the high seas. The CBD complements and reinforces the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Kimball, 2001). The CBD elaborates also on the 1982 Convention's content in relation to genetic resources and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Furthermore, the CBD identifies the establishment of a system of marine protected areas as a key measure for conservation of biodiversity. The CBD definition of Biodiversity (see Glossary in Annex 3) includes ecosystem diversity (the variety and frequency of occurrence of different ecosystems), species diversity (the frequency of occurrence of different species) and genetic diversity (the frequency of occurrence and diversity of different genes and/or genomes within species). Biodiversity is important from an EAF point of view because it is related to "resilience" or capacity to resist an impact or return to original conditions after the impact is removed. As a consequence, it is of interest to fisheries that the diversity of exploited habitats and the diversity of habitats and species in them is maintained and possibly enhanced as an "insurance" against negative consequences of future changes.

The 1995 Jakarta Mandate on Marine and Coastal Biological Diversity elaborated further on the "ecosystem approach" adopted by the CBD, further specifying it and basing it on: protected areas; the precautionary approach; scientific knowledge; indigenous knowledge and stakeholders' participation. It aims, inter alia, at integrated management; development of the ecosystem approach; valuation and effects of marine protected areas; assessment and minimization of mariculture impacts and the understanding of causes and impacts of the introduction of alien species (Pirot et al., 2000; Kimball, 2001).

The 1995 UN Fish Stock Agreement (FSA) aims at long-term conservation and sustainable use of these marine living resources, recognizing from the onset "the need to avoid adverse impacts on the marine environment, preserve biodiversity, maintain the integrity of marine ecosystems and minimize the risk of long-term or irreversible effects of fishing operations". The FSA deals with the precautionary approach, protection of biodiversity and sustainable use of fisheries resources. It calls on participating states to, inter alia: (1) protect biodiversity in the marine environment; (2) adopt measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fish stocks and promote their optimum utilization; (3) take account of environmental and economic factors; (4) adopt an ecosystems approach, whereby dependent or associated species are taken into account; and (5) take measures to prevent or eliminate overfishing and excess fishing capacity. It also provides for the precautionary approach, and the way of applying it is detailed for the first time, as through the specification of precautionary reference points and identification of management actions to be triggered in relation to them. It finally promotes a principle of compatibility, according to which management measures taken in different jurisdictional areas must be compatible across the entire area of distribution of the stocks.

The 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries provided a voluntary framework to increase the sustainable contribution of fisheries to development. It combines the provisions of the 1982 Convention, the 1995 Fish Stock Agreement and the CBD and, as such, is the generally recognized global framework for capture fisheries and aquaculture, in marine or inland waters, in EEZs or the high seas. Its provisions are examined in detail further below.

The 1995 Kyoto Declaration on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security emphasizes the importance of fisheries as a food source for the world's population. It sets out a number of principles that focus on sustainable development of fishery resources related to maintaining food security. It contains the agreement to undertake immediate action to, inter alia: "conduct.... integrated assessments of fisheries in order to evaluate opportunities and strengthen the scientific basis for multispecies and ecosystem management..." and to "minimize post-harvest losses...".

The 2001 Reykjavik Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem addressed directly and specifically the issue of introducing more ecosystem considerations into conventional fisheries management. Referring to the 1982 Convention, UNCED and the Code of Conduct, it recognized the need to "take into account the impacts of fisheries on the marine ecosystem and the impacts of the marine ecosystem on fisheries", and confirmed "that the objective of including ecosystem considerations in fisheries management is to contribute to long-term food security and to human development and to assure the effective conservation and sustainable use of the ecosystem and its resources." It recognized "the complex interrelationship between fisheries and other components of the marine ecosystems" but stressed that "including ecosystem considerations in fisheries management.... would enhance management performance". It called for "incorporation of ecosystem considerations such as predator-prey relationships" and for a better "understanding of the impact of human activities on the ecosystem". It emphasized "the role of science and the impact of non-fishery (usually land-based) activities".

The Reykjavik Declaration called for, inter alia: (1) immediate introduction of management plans with incentives for sustainable use of ecosystems; (2) strengthening of governance; (3) prevention of adverse effects of non-fisheries activities on the marine ecosystems and fisheries; (4) advances in the scientific basis for incorporating ecosystem considerations in management (including the precautionary approach); (5) monitoring of interactions between fisheries and aquaculture; (6) strengthening of international collaboration; (7) technology transfer; (8) removal of trade distortions; (9) collection of information on management regimes, and (10) development of guidelines.

While calling generally for the continued implementation of Agenda 21 (in its Article 29b), the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD, Johannesburg, South Africa, September 2002) in Paragraph 29d of the advance unedited Draft Plan of Implementation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development reinforced the conclusions of the Reykjavik Declaration by encouraging "the application by 2010 of the ecosystem approach, noting the Reykjavik Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem ....". It also provides for "the use of diverse approach and tools, including the ecosystem approach, the elimination of destructive fishing practices, the establishment of marine protected areas...".

While it cannot easily be related to one particular international meeting, the recent and progressive development of ecolabelling in fisheries aims at establishing higher congruence between trade and sustainability objectives (Deere, 1999). Its application to fisheries has recently attracted a lot of international attention following UNCED. The potential usefulness of ecolabelling schemes to create market-based incentives for environmentally friendly products and production processes was internationally recognized at UNCED, where governments agreed to "encourage expansion of environmental labelling and other environmentally related product information programmes designed to assist consumers to make informed choices". The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has developed an ecolabelling system for capture fisheries, and the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) is developing one for aquaculture products. Discussions are also ongoing regarding the possibility of applying to fisheries more generic systems such as ISO. While the future of the concept is still far from clear, fisheries managers are now aware that the future value of their fisheries might well be soon related to their management performance in terms of impact on the ecosystem.

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