The EAF amounts to introducing a series of modifications to conventional fisheries governance with the view to improving its poor performance (Sutinen and Soboil, 2003). As such, it is a fundamental contribution to sustainable development and is underpinned by all its principles. It follows that EAF is also a more comprehensive approach to the implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries in all its aspects, from assessment to management and from capture to processing and trade, and that the general principles of the Code are fully relevant to EAF.
The various forms of ecosystem management or ecosystem-based management described in the literature or adopted formally by states (e.g. under the Convention on Biological Diversity framework) refer to a number of interrelated guiding principles or conceptual objectives, many of which are fairly generally agreed to. Some of them were established formally in the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea. Others are derived or extended from that convention. They are reviewed in the following sections, the order of which does not imply priority.
The ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) is also a strengthened approach towards sustainable development of fisheries, recognizing more explicitly the interdependence between human well-being (HWB) and ecosystem well-being (EWB). It recognizes the need to maintain the productivity of ecosystems for present and future generations, conserving critical habitats, reducing pollution and degradation, minimizing waste and protecting endangered species. It also recognizes that this will not be achieved without the cooperation of people, i.e. unless the ecosystem contributes to human well-being, providing sustainable goods and services and sources of livelihood.
The fact that aquatic ecosystems' resources are finite and often in short supply has now become an axiom. The resources are renewable but the quantities that can be extracted every year without jeopardizing the renewal capacity are limited and, in many cases, insufficient to satisfy the potential demand. The consequence is that many of them are depleted, leading to severe social and economic disruptions. A related objective is to assess the limits of the resources and the conditions for its maintenance (research), to regulate the extractive capacity of the fishery to match removals and to maintain critical ecosystem process and structures.
Article 61.2 of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea provides that "states should ensure that the maintenance of the living resources in the exclusive economic zone is not endangered by overexploitation". This principle is reflected in the agreement establishing regional fishery management bodies and in most national fishery legislations. For instance, the Australian ESD charter provides that "a fishery must be conducted in a manner that does not lead to overfishing". While overfishing is not always precisely defined, the related objective is to allow catch levels (or fleet sizes) compatible with the maintenance of an ecologically viable stock at an agreed level, or range of levels, with acceptable probability that the set-up is viable. In this respect, the control of fishing activity, e.g. in terms of fishing capacity, gear and practices, is central to a responsible ecosystem approach to fisheries development and management.
"Exploited populations must not be allowed to fall below a level close to that which ensures their greatest net annual increase" (1980 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources). This objective may be considered as an older formulation of the preceding one (on overexploitation) in which the maximum acceptable fishing level is that corresponding to the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) at which the annual natural rate of increase is greatest. This principle has been central to conventional management as established in the 1982 Convention (Article 62.3), which provides that "measures shall also be designed to maintain... populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield, as qualified by relevant environmental and economic factors". As above, the related objective is to allow catch levels (or fleet sizes) compatible with the maintenance of a stock at or above the MSY level. Indeed the UN Fish Stock Agreement has established that, for precautionary purposes, MSY should be considered as a "limit" to be avoided and not as a target to be reached.
The 1982 Convention (Article 62.3) requires States to "restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield". This principle is also reflected in the Australian ESD charter which provides that "for those stocks that are accidentally overfished, the fishery must be conducted such that there is a high degree of probability that the stock(s) will recover". The same principle has also been adopted in relation to the ecosystem and provides that "risks of changes to the marine ecosystem that are not potentially reversible over two or three decades must be minimized". The US National Marine Fisheries Service Panel on EBFM also noted as a principle that "once (ecosystem's) thresholds and limits have been exceeded, changes can be irreversible" (Fluharty and Cyr, 2001).
This objective complements the two above as keeping impacts at the lowest possible level may be an effective way to ensure the highest probability of reversibility. The principle provides that "fishing operations should be managed to minimize their impact on the structure, productivity, function and biological diversity of the ecosystem". The principle is reflected in Article 5f of the UN Fish Stock Agreement. Related objectives are to conduct fisheries in a manner that (i) does not threaten bycatch species; (ii) avoids mortality of, or injuries to, endangered, threatened or protected species and (iii) minimizes the impact of fishing operations on the ecosystem generally. The latter is the most difficult to implement as it is open-ended, in the absence of clear socio-economic objectives to be met while "minimizing" the impact.
When stocks are overfished, depleted populations must be restored to stable recruitment levels (1980 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources). The principle is also reflected in the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea, Article 62.3, which requires that "measures shall also be designed to ...restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield, as qualified by relevant environmental and economic factors". The related objective is to plan for and implement within mandatory time frames a rebuilding strategy for exploited stock(s) which are below the agreed (preferably precautionary) reference points.
It is often stated that the "integrity" of the ecosystem should be maintained, preserved and in any case aimed at. While there is apparently no widely agreed definition of integrity, the application of the principle is taken, in the CBD, as implying or requiring: (i) maintenance of biodiversity at biological community, habitat, species and genetic levels and (ii) maintenance of the ecological processes that support both biodiversity and resource productivity.
The 1982 Convention refers to the need to "take account of ... the interdependence of stocks" (Article 62.3) and provides that the "coastal State shall take into consideration the effects on species associated with or dependent upon harvested species with a view to maintaining or restoring populations of such associated or dependent species above levels at which their reproduction may become seriously threatened" (Article 62.4). The principle is reflected in Article 5b of the UN Fish Stock Agreement. The 1980 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources provides that "ecological relationships between harvested, dependent and related species must be maintained". This principle often refers specifically to endangered, threatened or protected species (see above). The related objective is to minimize bycatch and discards. As it is impossible to optimize the exploitation for all species at the same time, compromise solutions will need to be found, reflecting decisions on which species may be more negatively affected.
"States should ensure that an appropriate policy, legal and institutional framework is adopted to achieve the sustainable and integrated use of the resources, taking into account the fragility of coastal ecosystems and the finite nature of their natural resources and the needs of coastal communities" (The Code, Article 10.1). An expression of this principle can be found also in the WWF Guidelines (Ward et al., 2002) which state that "ecosystems are of value to society and can potentially be used in many ways, to satisfy various sectors' needs and strategic interests, now and in the future". The related objective would be to ensure that fisheries management takes account of interactions with other types of uses of the ecosystem. This implies a need to develop functional connections between fisheries management institutions, other sectoral institutions, and other institutions in charge of ecosystem maintenance.
Aquatic ecosystems are poorly known. They are complex, dynamic, changing seasonally and in the longer term and modified by fisheries, aquaculture and other activities. They are interconnected, potentially leading to significant transboundary effects. As a consequence, the resilience of ecosystems and the extent and reversibility of human impacts are difficult to forecast and hard to distinguish from natural changes. The related objectives are to: (1) improve research to better understand ecosystems; (2) take measures that account for complexity and dynamics and are robust to uncertainty, and (3) give attention to transboundary impacts. These objectives are encapsulated in the Precautionary Approach (see below).
Boundaries of ecosystems and of present jurisdictions are unlikely to be fully compatible. In particular, many ecosystems will straddle political boundaries between EEZs or extend in the high seas. The implication is that management measures need to be coherent across the resource range. The UN Fish Stock Agreement is innovative in this regard and provides that "conservation and management measures established for the high seas and those adopted for areas under national jurisdiction shall be compatible in order to ensure conservation and management of the straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks in their entirety" (Article 6.2). The related objective is to promote collaboration between subnational or national authorities (as relevant) to ensure that measures taken under different jurisdictions converge towards common objectives. This also implies that objectives are indeed to be agreed on.
The Polluter Pays Principle, which is well established in the literature related to pollution and sustainable development, provides that "the polluter should bear the cost of the measures needed to ensure that the ecosystem is and remains in an acceptable state" (Dommen, 1993). Such measures would include those aiming at prevention and control of pollution as well as mitigation of impacts and rehabilitation of affected areas. This principle is of direct relevance to fisheries where the sector is a source of significant pollution (e.g. fish processing) as well as dumping or involuntary loss of fishing gear. It could perhaps be extended to cover habitat damage. The principle can be implemented by various means, ranging from establishing process and products standards to application of taxes.
The User Pays Principle is also abundantly referred to in the literature about sustainable use and, as the Polluter Pays Principle, also aims at fuller internalization of production costs. It states that "all resource users should pay for the full long-term marginal social cost of the use of a resources and related services including any associated treatment cost" (Dommen, 1993, p.151). In other terms, authorized users should pay for the exclusive privilege granted to them to use a public resource. The principle can be implemented through payments for licences or quotas or though taxes.
The Precautionary Principle and the way to implement it (the precautionary approach) are embedded in the UNCED Declaration (Principle 15) which provides that "the precautionary approach should be widely applied and that, where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation". The approach has been adopted for fisheries in the UN Fish Stock Agreement and the FAO Code of Conduct, and guidelines are available for its practical implementation (FAO, 1996a). Such implementation has already started in some areas, mainly in the developed world (Garcia, 2000), but the available experience is too limited yet to allow for an appraisal of its outcome.
Subsidiarity is a concept of governance in which "decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level" (Bothe, 1998). Together with decentralization and devolution, subsidiarity is more and more often invoked with the view to increasing direct involvement of stakeholders in decision-making. The concept is obviously attractive, considering the relative failure of central government systems, and is supported by the general trend towards reduced governmental power, characteristic of globalization. The process implies the creation of institutions at lower governance levels and the development of governance capacity at such levels. Such institutions and processes existed in traditional fisheries in all continents but have progressively disappeared, except in some areas, destabilized by modernization and intrusion of the market economy.
However, the concept which appears successful in developed countries (where it is seen as an extension of the regionalization process) may be difficult to implement in low-capacity areas and in freshly independent countries in which nationhood is a recent and still fragile concept.
Contributing to subsidiarity, decentralization is intended to increase participation of lower-level governance to decision-making. Participation may be implemented at many different degrees of involvement of the stakeholders in the management process in data collection, knowledge-building, option analysis, decision-making and even implementation, including enforcement. It calls for a decision-making framework that meaningfully includes and takes account of all sectoral and community interests. This is achieved by active participation from stakeholders, capacity building at appropriate level, widest possible distribution of information and dispute resolution mechanisms (e.g. at the lowest possible level, if the subsidiarity principle is applied).
Governance should endeavour to establish and preserve equity in all its forms: intergenerational, intragenerational, cross-sectoral, cross-boundary and cross-cultural, with special attention given to rights of minorities. Equity implies that similar options are available to all parties, a principle of stewardship by governments and the community. A number of sub-concepts have been referred to but may not meet with consensus. Intergenerational equity, for instance, is widely referred to and requires that future generations be given the same opportunity as the present ones to decide on how to use the resources. It can be sought through avoidance of actions that are not potentially reversible on some agreed time scale (e.g. a human generation), consideration of long-term consequences in decision-making and rehabilitation of degraded physical and biological environments. Lack of intragenerational equity (i.e equity among sections of the present generation) is recognized as one major source of conflict and source of non-compliance. Intersectoral equity would seem very hard to define and operationalize but would imply, for instance, that the fishery sector be fairly treated when its interests conflict with those of other sectors. Cross-boundary equity may be a condition to successful shared stocks agreements. Intercultural equity is relevant when allocating resources to different cultures or defining rights of minorities (e.g. between indigenous and other populations).
 With the notable exceptions
of the boundaries of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine
Living Resources (CCAMLAR) and the International Baltic Sea Fisheries Commission
(IBSFC) which correspond to Large Marine Ecosystems (LME).|