ICES on new course to address conservation challenges

Published on October 10, 2005

Participants at ICES Annual Conference hear about the EU’s new agenda, reactions from the fishing sector, as well as scientific progress in a number of important areas.

A recent gathering of fisheries and marine scientists from the international community were informed of bold new approaches to be undertaken to get North Atlantic fisheries and marine living resource use onto a more sustainable path. If implemented, such novel approaches could re-shape fisheries and marine science in the EU to meet the challenges of resource management into the 21st Century.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) held its Annual Science Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland, September 20-24, 2005. Established in 1902 and with over 1,600 scientists from at least 19 different countries with interest in the North Atlantic, the organisation’s annual scientific conference is one of the keystone events of the year for fisheries and marine conservation interests. And this year’s event was no exception.

Attended by over 700 participants, the five-day event included 18 themed sessions including Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management, and an Interactive Forum with the Fishing Industry as well as several poster displays.

Among keynote speakers addressing the conference was European Commissioner of Fisheries & Maritime Affairs, Joe Borg, who referred to the Commission’s developing Maritime Policy and its implications for ICES work in particular, as well as that of other fisheries interests and stakeholders. According to Borg… “the challenges before us…will require a significant change in the way we approach our work, new ways of doing things and … even closer collaboration between all the parties concerned than that which exists today”. Borg indicated that the reformed CFP and subsequent commitments to long-term approaches for management and fisheries recovery plans, as well as commitments to ecosystem-based fisheries management will represent a change in the kinds of questions the Commission will be asking of science in the future.

Many conference participants thought these new approaches might result in scientific advice from ICES being even more precautionary than before. Clearly, achieving recovery of fish stocks and protecting the marine environment overall will ultimately rely on scientific advice being followed. So far, the track record in Europe has not been a good one in this regard. As a result, some participants were concerned that more stringent advice would not likely be followed. However, there was also enthusiasm generated by the apparent new direction and course set for the future for more integrated approaches to advance marine science, research, and management toward sustainability.

Also of note at the conference was an ‘interactive session with the fishing industry’: possibly a first for the ICES Annual Science Conference. This gave fisheries scientists, managers, NGOs and other interests an opportunity to hear first hand the view of the industry on key EU fisheries issues. Although industry representation was somewhat limited (mainly UK industry participants) some interesting views were exchanged, including concerns over progress toward truly ‘integrated approaches’ to fisheries management. Of note, some felt fishermen’s knowledge and input into fisheries science had not progressed far enough, while others were concerned about the possible risks that an enhanced integration of industry input could pose for the ‘independence’ of ICES scientific advice.

The Annual Science Conference also marked the imminent departure of ICES General Secretary (GS) David Griffith, and announced the appointment of Gerd Hubold as the New GS. With a strong background in fisheries science, and as the Director of the Institute for Sea Fisheries (Germany) since 1991, Gerd brings extensive knowledge and experience to ICES, and is well placed to steer the organisation into the future along the challenging course apparently set by the European Commission.