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PelAC has written to the European Commission with its recommendation on the ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management

The Pelagic Advisory Council (PelAC) has written to the European Commission’s DG MARE with recommendation on the ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management.

The nine-page document of advice was drafted for the Commission’s consideration in the medium to long-term as the Commission moves towards EAFM, but also in the shorter term, as input to the upcoming 2024 TAC setting discussions and consultations with Northeast Atlantic Coastal States on shared stocks.

One of the key objectives of the CFP is to implement the ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management (EAFM), so as to ensure that negative impacts of fishing activities on the marine ecosystem are minimised, and the degradation of the marine environment is avoided. The CFP defines EAFM as “an integrated approach to managing fisheries within ecologically meaningful boundaries which seeks to manage the use of natural resources, taking account of fishing and other human activities, while preserving both the biological wealth and the biological processes necessary to safeguard the composition, structure and functioning of the habitats of the ecosystem affected, by taking into account the knowledge and uncertainties regarding biotic, abiotic and human components of ecosystems”.

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) emphasizes the need for managing the marine ecosystem as a whole and applying an ecosystem-based approach to all human activities, including fisheries, with the aim to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status (GES) of the Community´s marine environments. Moreover, international treaties and policy frameworks such as the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA), the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) and the United Nations High Seas Treaty, as well as HELCOM and OSPAR, require fisheries managers to pursue an ecosystem approach in their work.

The European Commission has published a study on EAFM in 2022, aimed at assessing the current state of EAFM’s implementation in the EU and providing recommendations to help further advance it. Developing the EAFM is also identified as a key area for future focus by the Commission in its CFP communication released in February 2023.

Despite the level of research on this topic since the CFP came into force, the uptake of an EAFM in the EU has been limited. The FP7 research project MareFrame has identified a multitude of institutional and scientific barriers as well as lack of stakeholder engagement as main reasons that prevent practical application of an EAFM. Several MSFD descriptors are directly impacted by fishing, e.g. food webs and the status of commercial fish and shellfish species. However, information is often scattered and implementation of the MSFD takes place on Member State level, potentially leading to incoherent measures due to a lack of coordination. This contributes to management difficulties, especially with regards to widely distributed stocks in the Northeast Atlantic which do not respect national boundaries and which are often shared with third countries.

The PelAC has established an Ecosystem focus group (EFG) to explore how to overcome these barriers and try to make the EAFM operational in a pelagic fisheries context. The EFG has recently revised its Terms of Reference in an attempt to break down the vastness of the EAFM into sizable chunks that can be tackled in a more systematic way. The EFG plans to look at ways to develop the work on an issue-by-issue basis (such as noise impacts on delicate spawning areas, bycatch of sensitive species deep-sea mining, climate change impacts etc), without losing track of the overall EAFM scope. The Focus Group aims to ensure that a practical building-in of EAFM into policy is considered. Following this approach, the PelAC hopes to gain a better understanding of the different dimensions and ecological drivers that come into play and should be considered when implementing EAFM in pelagic fisheries. With this knowledge, the group ultimately hopes to contribute to the development of multiannual-multispecies plans.

Taking into account the long-standing interest and capacity of the PelAC and its members to engage constructively with ICES, it is also expected that the EFG and the Advisory Council will look to engage with the scientific body as it develops the adequate processes of data collection, stock assessment and advice drafting for EAFM, which will need to address how to move from a single species approach to a multi-species approach.

The PelAC has continuously advised the Commission to further develop the ecosystem-based approach in numerous past recommendations, such as the annual TAC recommendations. As such, it fully supports the Commission’s aspirations to take steps to improve the uptake of EAFM moving forward.

As a follow-up step, the PelAC developed the recommendations as set out below, as a result of discussions and reflections during the PelAC workshop on EAFM organized in February 2023, which sought to identify approaches to implement EAFM in pelagic fisheries, as well as gather elements to enable further progress in relation to integrating ecosystem variables in pelagic fisheries management, and to identify knowledge gaps. The PelAC hopes the Commission will find these recommendations useful in their reflections to gradually move beyond single-species advice and to further develop the uptake of ecosystem considerations and climate driven changes into fisheries advice and management strategy evaluations.

One of the key recommendations from the Commission study on EAFM (2022) to help progress the implementation of EAFM is to improve decision-making through better involvement of stakeholders early on, and by linking tightly to the knowledge base. These recommendations can be considered as a contribution to this, where the PelAC hopes to provide the Commission with elements to improve the knowledge base as well as material for further discussions with ICES on EAFM moving forward. Finally, the PelAC hopes these recommendations form a basis for further engagement with the Commission services on this key topic moving forward.

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