The Eco-System based approach
Ecosystem-based management is currently a highly topical issue
and is being widely discussed in the context of fisheries
management. Evidence of this is provided by the prominence being
given to ecosystem-based management in the European Commission's
current review of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
Marine fisheries are one of the remaining examples of human
endeavour involving the direct exploitation of wild animal
populations. Fisheries are dependent on the productivity of the
ecosystem, and fisheries have an effect on, and are affected by,
the supporting ecosystem of the target species. It, therefore,
follows that prudent and responsible fisheries management should
take account of the profound interactions between fisheries and
their supporting ecosystem.
The phrase 'Ecosystem Approach' was first coined in the early
80s, but found formal acceptance at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992
where it became an underpinning concept of the Convention on
Biological Diversity, and was later described as:
'a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and
living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in
an equitable way.'
In the fisheries context, a variety of interpretations of the
ecosystem-based approach have been developed. For example, the FAO
Fisheries Atlas, in its section on 'Basic Principles of Ecosystem
'The overarching principles of ecosystem-based management of
fisheries.....aim to ensure that, despite variability, uncertainty
and likely natural changes in the ecosystem, the capacity of the
aquatic ecosystems to produce food, revenues, employment and, more
generally, other essential services and livelihood, is maintained
indefinitely for the benefit of the present and future
generations.....to cater both for human as well as ecosystem
well-being. This implies conservation of ecosystem structures,
processes and interactions through sustainable use. This implies
consideration of a range of frequently conflicting objectives and
the needed consensus may not be achievable without equitable
distribution of benefits.'
This definition is useful in demonstrating that
ecosystem-based management is not about managing or manipulating
ecosystem processes, something that is clearly beyond our
abilities. Rather, ecosystem-based management is concerned with
ensuring that fishery management decisions do not adversely affect
the ecosystem function and productivity, so that harvesting of
target stocks (and resultant economic benefits) is sustainable in
the long-term. Traditional systems of management, which have tended
to focus on individual stocks or species, have not achieved this
objective and consequently the economic activity that the ecosystem
supports has become compromised.
2. Implementing an ecosystem-based approach for fisheries
While a range of different interpretations of the
ecosystem-based approach exist, there is considerable consensus on
its main principles.
Ecosystems appropriate for fisheries management will have to
be defined on the basis of the main physical, biological, and
human-dependency relationships. In European waters, it is likely to
be appropriate to identify a nested series of ecosystems; at
regional, national and district scales.
Objectives for fisheries management should have regard to
local and national needs, and management should be decentralised to
the maximum extent possible
A nested structure for fisheries management could include
fairly large-scale Regional Seas (e.g. the North Sea), for which
integrated management plans would be developed by Regional Advisory
Councils (RACs) and serve as the basis for centralised
decision-taking. Over time, the responsibility of RACs could
develop to take on more of the decision-making role. These large
regions could be subdivided nationally, and locally, where the
local districts could serve as the basis for devolved management of
Ecosystems should be managed for their long-term
Management should be directed towards restoring fish stocks to
levels capable of delivering optimal yields over the long-term
without compromising other species or habitats. It should also aim
to support the maintenance of ecological processes, and the other
products and benefits, including biodiversity, provided by the
Incentives should be realigned to support the aims of the
ecosystem based approach
There needs to be a re-direction of incentives and financial
support mechanisms from those aimed at increasing fishing
efficiency to ones which promote the restoration of fish stocks to
optimal levels of yield, and which support responsible fishing
practice in sensitive marine areas, e.g. reducing the bycatch of
target and non-target species.
Information necessary to implement the ecosystem-based
approach should be made available
Managing ecosystems effectively, requires knowing how they
function, and on being able to predict, with some reliability,
their productive capacity and the consequences of management
actions. Programmes of data collection will need to be continued,
developed and refined to provide this information. The resultant
information should be made readily accessible to fisheries managers
and other users of the sea.
Where information is insufficient 'adaptive management'
and precautionary' approaches should be followed
Notwithstanding the need to develop a strong information base,
for the foreseeable future management decisions will have to be
taken on the basis of partial information. Adaptive management is a
process whereby the best decisions are made on the information
available, where the outcome of these decisions is monitored, and
where management decisions are altered if the outcome falls short
of what was intended. If there is a reasonable likelihood that an
activity will cause harm to fish stocks or the marine environment,
the Precautionary Principle should be applied and measures taken to
exert effective control over that activity.
A fully comprehensive ecosystem-based approach would require
us to take account of all the interactions the target fish stock
has with predators, competitors and prey species; the effects of
weather and climate; the interactions between fish and habitat; the
effects of fishing on species and habitat; and so on.
Clearly, such complete understanding of ecosystems is unlikely
to be achieved, and there is a need for pragmatism. We should be
clear that ecosystem-based management is not an instant replacement
for traditional fisheries management - rather it should be seen as
an evolution of the existing systems.
Therefore, progress towards the goal is likely to be made in
an incremental way rather than overnight and it is possible to
identify the steps towards, and desirable characteristics of,
ecosystem-based fisheries management, including:
- the identification of the relevant ecosystems, and their
boundaries and characteristics;
- the agreement of management objectives for each ecosystem.
These should encompass wider ecosystem factors and not just the
target stock, and all stakeholder groups should be involved in
- long-term management objectives should be developed as well as
short to medium-term objectives;
- the establishment of sustainability indicators (including
reference points, targets and limits) and the accompanying
- a decentralised regional approach to fisheries management in EU
waters should be adopted enabling management measures to be taken
that are appropriate to biologically distinct areas. These could
include technical measures, spatial management (including closed
areas), effort-related controls and systems of access rights;
- their should be better tailoring of research and information
provision to support the ecosystem approach, including better
knowledge of ecosystem interactions, and of fishing-related
impacts, and also improved monitoring bycatch and discards to
include information of non-commercial bycatch;
- application of Adaptive Management and the Precautionary
Principle given the degree of uncertainty and dynamics of the
- an effective enforcement capability.
- Furthermore, fisheries management should not be seen in
isolation from the wider management of the marine environment. Over
time, fisheries management will need to become much better
integrated with other sectors of marine management.
Alaska Sea Grant. 1999. Ecosystem approaches for fisheries
management. 16th Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium. AK-SG-99-01.
Fairbanks, AK. 738 pp.
Baird, S.F. 1873. Report on the condition of the sea fisheries
of the south coast of New England in 1871 and 1872. Report of the
United States Fish Commission, vol 1. GPO, Washington, D.C.
Brodziak, J.K.T. and J.S. Link. 2001 Ecosystem Management:
What is it and how can we do it? Bull. Mar, Sci. In press.
Christensen, N.L. and 12 others. 1996. The report of the
Ecological Society of America Committee on the scientific basis for
ecosystem management. Ecological Applications 6: 665-691.
ESA (Ecological Society of America). 1998. Ecosystem
management for sustainable marine fisheries. Ecological
Applications, Volume 8, Supplement 1.
Hall, S.J. 1999. The effects of fishing on marine ecosystems
and communities. Blackwell Science, Oxford, England.
Hannah, S.S. 1998. Institutions for marine ecosystems:
economic incentives and fishery management. Ecol. Appl.
Jennings, S., M.J. Kaiser and J.D. Reynolds. 2001. Marine
Fisheries Ecology. Blackwell Science, Oxford, England.
Jennings, S. and M.J. Kaiser. 1998. The effects of fishing on
marine ecosystems. Advances in Marine Biology 34: 201-352.
Kaiser, M.J. and S.J. de Groot. 2000. Effects of fishing on
non-target species and habitats. Biological, conservation and
socio-economic issues. Blackwell Science, Oxford, England.
Larkin, P.A. 1996. Concepts and issues in marine ecosystem
management. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 6: 139-164.
Ecosystem based fishery management: a report to Congress by
the Ecosystem Principles Advisory Panel, 1998