The European Commission has published a Communication on
the role of fisheries management in implementing an ecosystem
approach to marine management.
In this text, the Commission outlines how the Common Fisheries
Policy (CFP) can help implement a more joined-up approach
to protect the ecological balance of our oceans as a sustainable
source of wealth and well-being for future generations.
The key objectives are to minimise the impacts of fishing
on the wider marine environment by reducing the overall level
of fishing pressure and to ensure that fisheries' measures
are used fully to support the cross-sectoral approach defined
by the EU's Marine Strategy and Habitats Directives.
This should ensure protection for vulnerable habitats and
sensitive species, prevent disruptions to the food chain,
safeguard the integrity of key ecosystem processes and, thus,
create a healthy marine environment which will positively
support a thriving fishing industry, alongside other sustainable
The present Communication forms part of the first wave of
actions to be implemented under the new integrated Maritime
Policy (see IP/07/1463).
Commenting on the approach set out in the Communication,
European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Joe
Borg said - "Protecting the integrity of our marine environment
is not only an end in itself, it is also an essential precondition
for a sustainable, forward-looking maritime sector. Without
healthy ecosystems, fish stocks cannot thrive and fisheries
cannot be profitable. This is why the application of an ecosystem
approach results in a win-win situation."
The CFP is committed to the progressive implementation of
a precautionary, ecosystem approach to fisheries management,
as stated in the 2002 Regulation on the Common Fisheries Policy.
The goal of an ecosystem approach is to ensure the sustainable
management of living aquatic resources within meaningful ecological
boundaries. This means considering the whole ecosystem - not
simply that isolated element within it which is of economic
interest - and minimising both the direct and indirect impact
of fishing operations on the future functioning, diversity
and integrity of the ecosystems concerned. Nor can fishing,
itself, be considered in isolation - instead, it has to be
seen in its interaction with other human activities.
The first task of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management
must, therefore, be to reduce fishing pressure, which is currently
running above sustainable levels in a majority of commercial
EU fisheries. To do so will not simply reduce the mortality
rate for target fish stocks, it will also reduce the incidental
impact of fishing activities on other species which are taken
as by-catch and on their habitats.
This approach is already being enacted through the introduction
of multi-annual plans which set target rates for fishing mortality
in line with the EU's commitment to manage for maximum sustainable
yield (see IP/06/931)
and with the Commission's new policy to reduce by-catches
and eliminate discarding in European fisheries (see IP/07/429).
In the longer term, these measures will not only lead to lower
fisheries impacts on ecosystems, but also to a more profitable
fishing sector as fish stocks recover their productivity.
Another key element in protecting ecosystem integrity is
to ensure that fisheries policy is fully coherent with - and
supportive of - the actions taken under the cross-sectoral
Marine Strategy and Habitats Directives. The Marine
Strategy Directive (see IP/07/1894)
- adopted last year - forms the environmental pillar of the
EU's integrated Maritime Policy. It deals with the protection
of Member States' marine waters - focusing on their ecosystems
at the regional level - and calls on the Member States which
share a given region to establish strategies to achieve 'good
environmental status' and a roadmap of how they intend
to get there. The concept of 'good environmental status'
includes biodiversity conservation, as well as broader ideas
of ecosystem integrity and health.
The 1992 Habitats
Directive deals with specific habitats which have
their own defined characteristics and are clearly delimited
in space. The Directive provides the legal basis for establishing
a Europe-wide network of representative protected areas (Natura
2000). Recent years have seen an increased focus on establishing
a network of marine protected areas designated under the Directive.
A number of measures have been implemented under the CFP
since 2002 to address particular environmental issues - for
example, to protect specific vulnerable habitats including
provisional protection measures pending Natura 2000 status,
to reduce incidental by-catch of sea mammals, to protect specific
stocks on which sea bird colonies depend (e.g. sand-eels)
or to ban destructive fishing practices.
Measures will include proposals on an action plan to protect
sharks (2008) and another to protect sea-birds (2009), simplified
technical measures, development of indicators and promotion
of an ecosystem approach in Regional Fisheries Management
Member States are encouraged to use aid under the European
Fisheries Fund to strengthen the implementation of this approach.