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For detailed guidance on implementation, the reader is advised to refer to the FAO Guidelines (FAO, 2003). This section will address only a few selected issues related to implementation.

9.1 EAF: Hurdle or Opportunity?

The intention behind implementing an EAF is to improve fisheries management. One of the conclusions stemming from the scientific symposium organized during the Reykjavik Conference was that there was largely enough knowledge available to start implementing an EAF without delay. It was stressed that the existing imperfections in the knowledge should not be used as an excuse for not acting (a statement which recalls the formulation of the Precautionary Approach in the UNCED Declaration). As the paper has abundantly shown, there is pressure from many leading countries and NGOs to start implementing EAF as soon as possible and the WSSD Plan of Implementation asks for its implementation by 2010 (Paragraph 29d).

It has been argued, however, that EAF will be a more complicated endeavour than conventional fisheries management and even suggested that "the attempts to implement ecosystem-based management programmes may actually slow progress towards ... sustainable fisheries" (Sutinen and Soboil, 2003). This pessimism is based on the fact that the chronic and generalized absence of fishing and other property and use rights in the oceans promotes institutional and political shortsightedness strongly biasing governance towards short-term interests against conservation objectives and the interests of future generations. It is also based on the assumption that the "ecological angle", with its emblematic species and simplistic approaches, would detract from the strict and priority attention to be given to the interwoven issues of overcapacity, allocation and user rights. Ensuring the success of EAF requires therefore deep changes in governance (reviewed above) with the key introduction of user rights.

9.2 Rhetoric Versus Commitment

The international instruments already adopted by coastal and fishing nations, either specific to fisheries or of relevance to them, already include a wealth of agreements at the highest level, as well as provisions and guidance constituting a sound basis for implementation of the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries. Many, if not all, of the principles of EAF have already been adopted in theory, albeit not yet widely applied in practice, and are very intricately meshed into the Code. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that a number of principles described as part of the ecosystem approach in general are also advocated (if not generally applied) principles of good practice in conventional fisheries management (e.g. those related to participation, decentralization, subsidiarity, transparency, precaution, flexibility and adaptation).

However, despite the availability of this global consensual framework, a major drawback is that many States are not party to the agreements (when ratification is required) or merely pay lip service to the concept in large international fora while demonstrating limited political will to implement the approach effectively at national or regional levels (Aqorau, 2003). The main reasons behind such behaviour tend to be (1) the lack of capacity to implement, particularly in developing countries, and (2) the perceived or real political, social and economic costs of the transition required. The shift from rhetorics to commitment and implementation is needed urgently, if a major negative reaction from consumers and the society at large is to be avoided.

9.3 Capacity, Pragmatism and Stepwise Implementation

Even if political will and resources were available, any fishery manager, contemplating the actions needed to bring fisheries under an EAF framework, would be overwhelmed by the potential task. It must be recognized that, while most conceptual objectives and principles proposed are generally acceptable, it is unlikely that all the possible implications will be agreed to by all parties. A complex debate can be expected about them in a participatory, bottom-up implementation process. In addition, all the actions listed under Section 8 (in a list that is probably not exhaustive) may not be absolutely needed from the onset. Their practical implementation raises scientific and managerial challenges often incompatible with the available human and financial resources and, in many cases, with the economic value of the fisheries themselves. To illustrate this point, it is sufficient to remember that the fundamental principles of sustainable development adopted at UNCED and formulated in Agenda 21 a decade ago have proven to be very difficult to implement, despite the political will and the high scientific and technical capacity available. The situation of countries confronted with the implementation of the EAF ten years later has not really improved in most cases.

Considering the rigidities in most administrations and institutions, and the limited resources usually available, the implementation of EAF can only be through a stepwise process, the speed and priorities of which will depend on local conditions (history, emergencies, capacity). The difficulty will reside in allocating between areas and steps the resources available for the process, selecting the priorities so as to maximize effectiveness (e.g. in terms of stock or environment rehabilitation) while reducing human impacts and conflicts to the minimum possible.

9.4 The Need for Subsectoral Approaches

The difficulties met during implementation may be partly different in small-scale and industrial fisheries but generalizations are dangerous. Small-scale fisheries are often considered as less threatening to the ecosystem (Mathew, 2003) but are also affected by overcapacity, overfishing and destructive practices in many areas. Industrial fisheries may represent a threat to sustainability (e.g. through illegal fishing or use of flags of convenience) but they have also shown to be strong supporters of EAF in some contexts (Bodal, 2003).

Difficulties may be particularly acute with small-scale fisheries because of their size (in number of people concerned), diversity of gear and practices, geographical dispersion, low level of education, low political influence, etc. On the other hand, however, these fisheries, which are essentially coastal area-based, with traditional management structures and rules often still operational, flexible and multispecies, and which often draw additional resources from other natural resources (e.g. through small-scale agriculture, aquaculture and forestry), should be particularly adapted and receptive to an ecosystem approach to their livelihood. For these fisheries, Mathew (2003) proposes to use a progressive implementation, starting from the easier steps and proceeding to more complicated ones as the stakeholders' response improves.

9.5 Role of NGOs

The role of environmental and sectoral NGOs cannot be understated. They can play a role as interface between the fishers and the government, as well as with society at large. They can also help improve the coherence and coupling between the action taken in the environmental and fishery ministries, an area in need of significant progress. A difficulty in the process is that there is not always common understanding within environmental or sectoral NGOs or between them (Agardy, 2003).

It is impossible to date accurately the process of development of an ecosystem approach to fisheries. It probably started unconsciously when the first groups of fishers, most likely in inland waters, realized they had depleted a small stream and had to do something to deal with the problem. In its more formalized, modern form, it is a product of the 20th century (Couper, 1992) and has developed inland before spreading into oceans as their exploitation increased together with the environmental risk resulting from it. The process was fuelled by concerns about pollution, principally from the oil industry, and it progressively extended to fisheries impacts in the late 1990s. From an environmental angle, the process is one of inclusion of fisheries as an additional source of impact in the ecosystem governance. From a fisheries point of view, it is one of extension of the conventional concern about the fishers and the resources to other essential elements of the exploited ecosystem. In addressing this extension, its principles and institutional basis, as well as its aims and means, this paper does not dwell on EAF implementation stricto sensu. The matter is addressed in more detail by the FAO Technical Consultation (FAO, 2003) which undertook to develop preliminary guidelines for the approach. The reader is therefore advised to look at these guidelines for a better appreciation of ways and means and implications of implementing EAF.

EAF is an attempt to graft additional ecosystem considerations to conventional fisheries management, giving to the former more weight in decision-making than they historically had. It is certainly an institutional "evolution" (and not a "revolution") looking at ecosystem-related outcomes but with significant social and economic consequences in both the short and long terms. It is obvious that the fisheries sector cannot avoid it, and some parts of the sector will even intend to "ride the wave" with the hope to attract consumers (e.g. through ecolabelling). It is more obvious that, following the high-level support expressed in FAO and at WSSD (Johannesburg, 2002) governments will have no other choice than to foster its implementation. Two issues require attention: (1) the implementation challenge and (2) the potential collision between ecosystem and fisheries management paradigms and requirements.

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