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Environmental approach to essential fish habitat designation

Final Report Summary - ENVIEFH (Environmental approach to essential fish habitat designation)

The 'Environmental approach to essential fish habitat designation' (ENVIEFH) project was based on the latest advances in essential fish habitats (EFH) mapping and identification, which are characterized by a broad approach to EFH designation including all the physical, chemical and biological properties of marine areas and the associated sediment and biological assemblages that sustain fish populations throughout the various stages of their life cycle.

In the last decade, the degradation of aquatic habitats essential for sustainable fish production has become a growing concern everywhere in the world. The importance of such EFH - which can be defined as the waters and substrata necessary for fish to spawn, breed, feed, or grow to maturity – has since then been widely recognised. EFH mapping and designation can support the spatial component of fisheries management, a component that has often been overlooked in previously enforced fishery policies. With the introduction of the ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management in the Common Fisheries Policy (Council Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002), however, the clear identification and protection of essential fish habitats and their inclusion in new fishery policies is now required.

The main objective of the ENVIEFH project was to facilitate the spatial component of fisheries management by applying an environmental approach to the mapping and designation of essential fish habitats in the Mediterranean Sea. The specific objectives were as follows:
1. To collate and use existing environmental and biological data in order to develop the basis for an essential fish habitat designation tool that will facilitate the spatial component of fisheries management.
2. To identify and map the spatiotemporal distribution of ocean production processes that affect species distribution and create favouring habitats throughout the various stages of species life cycles.
3. To introduce species life history information to the description of environment-species interactions in order to identify spawning, nursery and feeding aggregation regions as well as over-exploited areas and alternative fishing grounds.
4. To validate and disseminate project research results to fisheries managers and scientists as well as to coastal fishing communities through the internet, hardcopy habitat maps and stakeholder workshops.

Initial analysis produced interesting results, revealing the spatiotemporal distribution of EFH of various species and life stages. Points of interest included the EFH mapping between Western and Eastern Mediterranean for small pelagic species where, although different areas from the oceanographic perspective, EFH environmental descriptors were very similar in both areas. In addition, the EFH mapping of Mnemiopsis, an anchovy eggfeeding parasite, for the whole Mediterranean basin was based on surveyed data from the north-eastern Mediterranean but it revealed the main anchovy spawning areas in western Mediterranean as well. Finally, verification of anchovy habitat environmental descriptors based on north-eastern Mediterranean surveys for 2003-2005 were applied during the 2006 survey and the forecasted EFH map was very similar with the surveyed data, a case that applies to various species groups.

During the second year of the project, EFH mapping was finalised using fishermen input and other statistical techniques, while the ENVIEFH consortium produced a special Issue on essential fish habitats in the Mediterranean through the international journal of aquatic sciences Hydrobiologia.

By using new concepts in fisheries management (the spatiotemporal mapping of EFH as part of the ecosystem-based approach) and new scientific developments (remote sensing, spatial analysis and GIS technologies), ENVIEFH provided the means that enhance the efficacy of technical measures: the ability of the essential fish habitat designation tool to identify spawning, nursery and feeding aggregation regions as well as over-exploited areas and alternative fishing grounds will contribute to healthy marine ecosystems by allowing the growth of an economically viable and competitive fisheries industry.

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