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The identification and mapping of Essential Fish Habitats using Geographic Information Systems (EFH-GIS)

Final Report Summary - EFH-GIS (The identification and mapping of Essential Fish Habitats using Geographic Information Systems)

Effectively managed fisheries are more likely to be sustainable and to combine a healthy biodiverse marine ecosystem with an economically viable and competitive fishery industry. High-quality habitat is a fundamental requirement for reproduction, growth, migration and persistence of fish populations. The identification and spatiotemporal mapping of Essential Fish Habitats (EFHs) hence represent two fundamental scientific tasks of the spatial component of fisheries management, a component that has often been neglected in previously enforced fisheries policies. The 2002 reform of the European Commission's Common Fisheries Policy is based on an ecosystem approach to fisheries management and requires, inter alias, the introduction of essential habitat identification and protection into developing new fishery policies. This would contribute to preserving resources in the long-term, as well as the viability of the fisheries sector, particularly in the Mediterranean Sea where fisheries account for almost half the total European Union fleet. EFHs can be defined as'those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity', a definition that includes the physical, chemical and biological properties of marine areas and the associated sediment and biological assemblages that sustain fish populations throughout their full life cycle. There is a need to ensure not only the conservation of fishery-targeted species, but also of species belonging to the same ecosystem or associated with or dependent upon the targeted species, as well as the marine areas where they are found. This approach is fundamental to preserving the biodiversity and integrity of marine ecosystems and, hence, the productivity of EFHs, with subsequent positive effects for fishery resources and fishing activities. To achieve this, the European Commission is considering, among other measures, the establishment of sanctuaries to protect EFHs (i. e. areas closed to fishing, often referred to as Marine Protected Areas, MPAs), thereby introducing a spatial approach to fishery management.

Being the vital first step in the determination of EFHs, habitat modelling is a key and well-established tool for resource management and conservation planning, and for understanding the effects of changing environmental conditions on species biogeographical distributions. In the light of global climate change, a deteriorating marine environment and the decline of many fish stocks worldwide and particularly in the Mediterranean, habitat modelling and its derived EFH designation and protection are key tools for the long-term preservation of fish stocks, and ultimately, of marine biodiversity as a whole.

The intention of the EFH-GIS (the identification and mapping of Essential Fish Habitats using Geographic Information Systems) project was to bolster the spatial component of fisheries management by applying an interdisciplinary environmental approach to the mapping and designation of EFHs in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, an area that supports commercially important fisheries The research project further developed current habitat modelling approaches by taking into account the environmental characteristics of habitat descriptors and the physical-biological oceanography of species-utilised habitat regions. The work was based on the latest interdisciplinary advances in habitat modelling (including their spatiotemporal changes), which included (i) relatively recent technologies, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Earth Observation techniques, and (ii)'state of the art'statistical methodologies applied to remotely-sensed satellite imagery and fisheries biological data. Habitat modelling results were then used as input in a pilot study into the design of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The European Commission aims to achieve sustainable development by reconciling the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the exploitation of the seas. The designation of MPAs to protect EFHs is of interest to everyone who is concerned, more or less directly, about healthy coastal and offshore ecosystems, and also sustainable coastal social economies. The underlying reason for protecting EFHs is, indeed, to promote the long-term sustainability of marine fishery resources and biodiversity as a whole.

Project's Internet site: http://arch. her. hcmr. gr/efhgis/

Scientist in charge:

Vasilis Valavanis

Marine Geographic Information Systems

Hellenic Centre for Marine Research

P. O. BOX 2214

71003 Heraklion

Greece

Tel: + (30) 2810 337817

E-mail: vasilis@hcmr. gr

Internet sites: http://arch. her. hcmr. gr, http://www.hcmr. gr

Marie-Curie Fellow:

Dr. Corinne Martin

Institute of Marine Biological Resources and Inland Waters

Hellenic Centre for Marine Research

P. O. BOX 2214%% 71003 Heraklion

Greece

Tel: (+ 30) 2810 337715

E-mail: corinne@hcmr. gr, corinne. sophie. martin@gmail.com

Internet sites: http://www.linkedin.com/in/corinnesophiemartin
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