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Evolution Versus Revolution

EAF is an evolution of the fisheries management paradigm which borrows some central principles of ecosystem management and gives to them a practical operational meaning. However, both paradigms are evolving and the interaction between their respective trajectories is not immediately obvious. While this paper could not address the evolution of ecosystem management (sensu lato), it underlines the fact that ecosystem management and fisheries management have become two related but fairly distinct paradigms, with their independent schools of thought, scientific guilds, line ministries, international instruments and regional institutions. It also underlines the fact that they are evolving and converging, exchanging principles and elements of action. Their decades-long evolution, on parallel if not diverging routes, is now inflected towards a closer encounter or violent collision, depending on areas, governance systems and types of fisheries. We argue that a violent collision would be detrimental to society, environment and fisheries.

Co-evolution of Science and Governance

The process is one of co-evolution of governance and science, a symbiosis through which, supporting and criticizing each other, they were both forced to evolve (Garcia, 1996a) and become more conscious of: (1) the long-term costs of short-term "fixes"; (2) natural variability, uncertainty and need for precaution; (3) the need for more democratic, participative and transparent processes, as well as more powerful oversight mechanisms; (4) the importance of cooperation, coordination and integration. However, the fundamental perceptions remain still at some angle. While the long-term goals of the two processes are converging, there are sources of friction, e.g. in the attention to be given to social and economic stress in decision-making and in selecting options, as well as in the expectations about the acceptable time horizon for implementation.

Parallel Evolution of Paradigms

Ecosystem management, on the one hand, has developed and maintained a body of (largely qualitative) knowledge on ecosystem structure and functioning. It is developing sets of sustainability indicators. It has tested management organizations, processes and instruments (e.g. protected areas) and rediscovered that people, their aspirations, costs and benefits, allocation and equity - with the potential conflicts they can generate - have to be taken into account.

Fisheries management, on the other hand, has developed a body of (more quantitative) knowledge on population dynamics, interactions between fisheries and target resources, consideration of uncertainties in assessment and management and sustainability indicators. It has tested management institutions at all levels, has experienced 20 years of space allocation following the adoption of the 1982 Convention and rediscovered that maintaining associated and dependent species, as well as critical habitats and ecosystem processes, is necessary.

In both processes, the players have discovered that conflicts must be tackled and resolved equitably, that enforcement capacity must be improved and both are testing the assumption according to which increased participation, decentralization and transparency will improve management performance. With time, through scientific progress, recurrent failures and growing pressure from developing environmental ethics, both paradigms are evolving towards a more balanced approach to ecosystem and human well-being. It is recognized that both needs are intricately interconnected and that conflicts between users' requirements need to be addressed and resolved.

The shift to new terminology reflects this evolution. Fisheries management has started to take on more environmental and biodiversity considerations, as shown by the evolution of ecosystem-related provisions from the 1982 Convention to the UN Fish Stock Agreement and the FAO Code of Conduct in 1995. In parallel, ecosystem management has started to take on more socio-economic and cultural considerations, progressively accepting humans as a necessary part of the ecosystem and the satisfaction of their needs as a condition for sustainability and conservation. The examination of both trajectories indicates that, while probably starting from a common concern and set of principles far in human history, the two management paradigms have developed different (albeit convergent) focus and objectives, based on different perspectives, processes and institutions. They both met with dismal performance and rediscovered that the needs and constraints of both the people and the environment must be satisfied.

Obstacles to the "Fusion"?

It would seem obvious that there is a need to join the paradigms as they probably were centuries ago in more primitive civilizations and as attempted in the concept of sustainable development, but there are some difficulties on the way:

Both paradigms, however, must confront the difficult and recurrent question of allocation of resources and wealth at societal, cross-sectoral and even individual levels, the complexity of the "equity" question and the potential for conflict among a large and diversified group of stakeholders.


It is not easy to forecast how the evolution of the two paradigms will proceed. Such evolution will probably depend partly on the evolution in other sectors than fisheries (e.g. water, forestry, waste, etc.). In any case, fisheries will most probably be considered from now on as one "environmentally degrading" industry among many others, a fact that the sector must take seriously into account. During the next two decades, the process could evolve as:

(1) A "violent" collision between radicalized paradigms, thrown out of balance by globalization, conflicts between stakeholders, and no reversal in overfishing and pollution trends.[17] In this scenario, public pressure increases on a sector perceived as adapting too slowly and unwillingly to new societal requirements. Considering the respective political and electoral weights of the two stakeholder groups, the perspective is that fishermen could lose the conflict in many countries, particularly in the developed world, with very significant political, financial and cultural losses. While the sector itself may survive because alternative ways of producing 150 million tonnes of food are simply impractical, many fisheries may be closed, starting from the most environmentally "aggressive" ones and in areas where the contribution to food is not essential. Whether this scenario would be favourable to small-scale (more ecological?) or large-scale (more politically effective?) industries is not clear.

(2) A smooth confluence between the two paradigms through improved collaboration between existing institutions or the creation of new, integrated ones. The fisheries stakeholders are put in the position of effectively adopting and implementing a more ecosystem and precautionary approach to development and management. The ecosystem stakeholders realize that in many areas fishing is needed and the fisherman is an "endangered species", essential for the functioning of the coastal communities. Both groups of stakeholders realize that future long-term benefits can operate as incentives today only if the issue of resources allocation is resolved. Both realize and accept that, in the short term, a major problem is in the fact that the cost of change can easily be overwhelming. Both agree that the solution is neither in status quo (fishing as usual) nor in systematic exclusion of fishers through bans or moratoria, and that the challenge is to work out a transition at a pace that is effective enough in reaching the goal and socio-economically acceptable.

Predictions and generalizations as to which scenario will prevail would be risky. While a range of positions exist in both paradigms and both include extremists, option 2 seems to be the one generally favoured by national governance but often looked at reluctantly by a defying sector. It is also the one implicit in most scientific papers with some statement about the future.

It seems indeed that an outright elimination of fisheries as a main use of the aquatic ecosystems is highly unlikely. The ecological footprint of an alternative solution to production of the needed 150 million tonnes of food now coming from the sea would probably be worse and the socio-economic earthquake resulting from the demise of world fisheries unacceptable to society.

A global disappearance of fisheries is unlikely and, as a consequence, a progressive change towards more ecological fisheries will probably happen. Based on the past 50 years' experience, however, the change will happen at different paces in different places and fisheries. Further degradation can therefore be expected in some places while in others the situation will markedly improve. More stocks will collapse. Others will be closed down by management, under public pressure, before this happens. In both cases socio-economic disruption will be very damaging, most often to poor people for which fishing is the only livelihood.

Capture fisheries have sometimes been considered a sunset industry, spiralling down through plummeting resources and profitability as conventional management failed to maintain target stocks at the appropriate level. Will EAF be able to reverse the image? Will EAF succeed in maintaining target stocks and, in addition, the biochemical environment and the habitat? The reply to this question will depend on the circumstances, the political will, the capacity, etc. In any case, EAF appears as a necessary if not sufficient condition to the maintenance of fisheries in the long term.

[16] This section contains elaborations and modifications of earlier elaborations on the issue by Garcia (2002; 2003)
[17] After drafting this paper, the authors discovered that the concept of "collision" had already been used referring to "policy train wrecks", collisions of economic enterprise and environmental preservation (Fitzsimmons, 1994).

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