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Indicators for fisheries Management in Europe

Final Report Summary - IMAGE (Indicators for fisheries MAnaGement in Europe)

The IMAGE project developed an operational framework to support the integration of environmental protection requirements into the Common fisheries policy (CFP). To identify the issues to be addressed by indicator-based management, we needed to translate the strategic highest level (i.e. level 1) objectives as stated in Article 2 of the Council Regulation No. 2371/2002 on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under CFP.

The IMAGE project required interaction with the Regional advisory council (RAC) and thought it instructive to report on types of interaction they had and their successes and failings. This is because there are increasing demands on 'stakeholders' to provide input to the development of scientific projects and because we recognise the very busy schedules of short-term work that RAC are already expected to accomplish. Our general view of the process is that the receipt of feedback from relatively strategic scientific projects is not a high priority because the outcome does not have an immediate effect on their day-to-day business.

Presenting the work briefly and concisely at existing RAC meetings is sufficient only when little feedback is expected from the RAC; organising separate meetings with RAC invitees provides a complementary strategy. Alternatively, a follow-up strategy after the meeting to approach the stakeholders with a short communication and / or questionnaire allows their response to be used in a formal manner. Some of the methods developed could support this.

IMAGE sought to develop an operational framework of candidate indicators to support ecosystem based fisheries management, to elaborate these indicators into comprehensive dashboards, to support management decision making and to test their applicability in regional case studies, taking into account the diversity of the fishery systems in Europe. In IMAGE, the development of social, economic and ecological indicators was considered.

Given the time pressures to apply indicators in management (that are now strongly dictated by the commitment to adopting the Ecosystem approach to fisheries management (EAFM), the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and the forthcoming 2012 revision of the CFP) it is clear that we will largely have to work with the current tool box (in terms of models of pressure-state links and data inputs). Notwithstanding the consistency encouraged by the Data Collection Framework (DCF), we believe that it will be hard to achieve standardisation of approaches among RAC areas and that this may not be strictly necessary given ecological and societal differences. However, we also note that policy requires that high level objectives (e.g. any operational objectives identified in a reformed CFP) should be met by all European countries. For this reason, a management system that is based on common high level objectives but allows some regional flexibility in the choice of operational objectives and indicators is likely to be most satisfactory. The process of identifying indicators in the project also demonstrated that we did not find it straightforward to identify indicators with all the properties that we considered theoretically desirable. A high level of compromise will be needed when developing management systems, although it is hoped that challenge to the initial systems will lead to modifications and improvement through time.

The main conclusions of IMAGE are that a common framework for indicator-based management can be developed for European waters but it may perform better conceptually than practically. Regional (among RAC area) differences in the environment, society, economies and science capacity mean that different indicators and methods for using indicators in management may be more desirable and more cost-effective than pan European standardisation, so long as these indicators support management that meets the high level objectives of the CFP (as expressed in the 2012 revision) and Good Environmental Status (GES, as required by the MSFD). Data from the new DCF provide a concrete opportunity to pilot indicators and to establish initial reference points or directions that may evolve once they are used, evaluated and contested by stakeholders.

State can only be managed if the relationships with fishing (pressure) are known. Significant work is still required to understand the links between fishing pressure and the value of indicators and to establish reference points. Predicting such relationships is fundamental to developing an EAFM, but the relationships can be very challenging to detect or to model in practice. A number of approaches are proposed that range from assessing empirical trends in multiple state indicators and relating these to fishing pressure to models that link the structure of the fish community and indicators of this structure to fishing mortality. None of these approaches are sufficiently developed to allow full implementation at this time.