Ecosystem Approach: EU fisheries management still dominated by single-species advice

Published on September 27, 2022

The role of the adaptive process to advance EAFM in several adaptive cycles from conventional single-species management into increasingly more mature operational EAFM. It also shows the critical role of the three types of EAFM challenges, i.e. type 1 involving the achievement of a wider range of policy objectives, and two governance arrangements, i.e. the advisory (type 2) and decision-making processes (type 3), that need to be addressed to support this.

On September 15 the EU Commission released the report ‘The implementation of ecosystem-based approaches applied to fisheries management under the Common Fisheires Policy’. The study provides a state-of-play of the implementation of EAFM in the North and Baltic Seas, Western Atlantic and Outermost Regions.

The report concludes that EU fisheries management still is dominated by single-species advice, even though an Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management has been a requirement under the CFP since 1 January 2014.

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), European Union (EU) regulation 1380/2013 states that it ”/…/ shall implement the ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management so as to ensure that negative impacts of fishing activities on the marine ecosystem are minimised, /…/”.

The new study by the European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA) revealed that existing measures are largely targeting only one type of Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) challenge, i.e. mitigating fishing impacts using both input and output measures. Although a lack of consolidated information on existing management measures prevented a full in- depth assessment, some key obstacles were identified in the governance arrangements that should facilitate an EAFM.

The advisory process should build on a transdisciplinary knowledge base, integrating various interdisciplinary scientific and local indigenous (e.g. fisher) knowledge to consider the full social-ecological system. Including context and stakeholder interests in decision-making can enhance the feasibility, appropriateness and impact of chosen management measures. The uptake of scientific advice beyond single-species stock assessments into decision-making should also be improved.


Annual quota process an easy starting point

The overall conclusion of the assessment was that current fisheries management is dominated by conventional single-species advice on which the Total Allowable Catches/quota (TAC) management is based. The first step toward more EAFM is through the implementation of technical conservation measures (TCM) to mitigate by-catch. All other EAFM initiatives mainly consist of regulatory or economic policy instruments, not measures.

The annual TAC and quota process could be a relatively easy starting point for implementing a move towards EAFM. Applying the typology of EAFM challenges developed in this project could make this more explicit as an important first step. This would require the various advisory bodies, e.g. ICES or STECF, to ensure that the knowledge base is adequate and informed by an inter- and transdisciplinary perspective, thereby increasing the credibility of the knowledge base. As a prerequisite, a better understanding of EAFM principles and relevant concepts is needed if there is to be more EAFM advice.

The analyses also indicate that advancing the implementation of EAFM requires attention to the key areas of the governance arrangements, i.e. advisory processes and decision-making. In that respect, it should be recognized that modifying current management and governance arrangements must start with what is already in place in the specific context in which EAFM is supposed to operate, together with the opportunities and constraints that this represents. This applies for the management measures (and their acceptability and performance), the knowledge base (in terms of contents and quality) and the governance arrangements (who decides and how and what ecosystem aspects are addressed). Furthermore, EAFM processes are, and will remain dynamic, with multiple objectives, multiple stakeholders and a wide array of social, economic and environmental conditions all subject to change over time. For these reasons, it is less appropriate to talk of adopting best practices aimed at fixed solutions than to recognize that it is possible to move towards increasingly better practices by using the current state of play as a baseline and applying EAFM principles as part of a gradual and adaptive process to guide the advancement of EAFM. The study identified two main avenues through which progress can be advanced:

  1. the advisory process and its knowledge base and;
  2. the decision-making process.


A transdisciplinary approach needed

For the advisory process there is a need to improve the knowledge base. There are two elements to this. Firstly, there is the more general point of ensuring that science is inter- and transdisciplinary to be able to consider the whole range of policy objectives and societal goals as these should also include the social and/or economic dimensions of sustainability that includes institutional aspects. Secondly, the knowledge base should be expanded to cover more of the ecosystem than the commercial stocks (e.g. seabed habitats, PET species) as well as socio-economic information. Pertaining to the commercial stocks the scientific stock assessments will need to include a wider range of ecosystem aspects and their effects on fisheries’ resources and opportunities, including natural variability, long- term trends or the (cumulative) impacts of other anthropogenic activities.

It is also important to consider alternative knowledge types in an EAFM. Inclusivity should thus also extend to the integration of different scientific disciplines of other knowledge types associated with fishers and other (non-science) stakeholders. To be effective, inter- and transdisciplinary teams will require a high-level mutual understanding between disciplines and with other stakeholders of EAFM principles and concepts (e.g. sustainable, healthy, good environmental status). As well as quantitative information, qualitative information (both observational and experiential) has value and can support the knowledge base (e.g. Johannes and Nelis, 2007; Moon et al. 2014, 2021). Scientific knowledge is one form of knowledge and other experiences and understandings amongst stakeholders can also be important and provide different insights and information (e.g. Long and Long, 1992). The inclusion of these types of knowledge can be facilitated by forms of transdisciplinary science (e.g. Macher et al., 2021; Klein, 2004; Chuenpagdee and Jentoft, 2019). Addressing this element presents a strong argument for increased contributions of social scientists to advance EAFM. This comes with a requirement for the non-social scientists to learn how to work with these other knowledge types. Macher et al. (2021) argue that this requires capacity development to help to develop new skill sets, methods and professionals to support the process.


Decision-makers need to engage

There is also a need to consider decision-makers or managers in the advisory process. As Macher et al. (2021) identify, more engagement of decision-makers and managers is necessary to increase the interactions with scientists and other stakeholders (e.g. Röckmann et al., 2015). This has the potential to reveal the opportunities and constraints related to the advisory process, enabling decision-makers and managers to explicitly request advice which would require such transdisciplinary science.

Note: For reference list, please download the full report. Link below.