Report on consistency of existing targets and limits for indicators in an ecosystem context

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) are the two key policy instruments by which the EU has set indicators, targets, and limits designed to help fisheries meet (or measure their progress towards) a variety of ecological, economic, and social objectives. However, few targets and limits for economic and social objectives have been agreed for the CFP to date, and there are similar issues when it comes to the MSFD setting targets and limits in an uncoordinated way may contribute to inconsistency between some of the CFP’s and MSFD’s indicators, which in turn could lead to undesired trade-offs between different fisheries management objectives across Europe.

Within our Evaluation of Fisheries Management Strategies in an Ecosystem Context theme, we sought to establish a baseline for consistency between existing targets and limits in the CFP and the MSFD, by testing these against a variety of simulated scenarios. In identifying likely outcomes for stocks, ecosystem components, and fisheries under different management strategies and against existing and potential CFP and MSFD indicators, this exercise has been able to identify likely trade-offs between different objectives, generating findings with direct relevance to fisheries managers in Europe seeking to implement Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management (EBFM).

SEAwise research

We collected information on existing targets and limits for CFP and MSFD indicators across sub-regions within the four SEAwise Case Study regions. To do so, we partly drew on SEAwise research already completed on bycatch, benthic impacts, food webs, and sources of marine litter. This information was incorporated into the modelling of scenarios that simulated the range of management options currently available in the sub-regions, as well as variations in the extent to which these options might be implemented by fleets. In doing so, we identified where additional or alternative management measures may be needed to achieve healthy stocks and ecosystems, and where trade-offs may occur due to inconsistencies between CFP and MSFD targets and limits, or interactions between fisheries and environmental and biological aspects.

Taking the sub-regions included in the research as a whole, we found that:

  • If current fishing effort remains the same, and no additional management measures are introduced, stocks will be put at greater risk of falling below critical levels. 
  • Applying a strict maximum sustainable yield (MSY) approach in combination with the landing obligation (which prevents fishers from discarding fish they did not intend to catch) typically led to lower fishing effort compared to other scenarios, which had positive effects on MSFD indicators such as bycatch of Protected, Endangered and Threatened (PET) species, but at the same time could result in poor performance against social and economic indicators.
  • In areas where small-scale fisheries play important social and economic roles, the ratio of revenues of small-scale fisheries to large-scale fisheries varied by scenario, highlighting trade-offs between these two fleet segments.
  • Scenarios applying the “Pretty Good Yield” concept – whereby fisheries are allowed to make “sustainable” deviations from the MSY reference point for stocks in a healthy state – often outperformed the scenarios applying MSY strictly. This more flexible interpretation of MSY led to lower fishing effort compared to current levels, but reduced the likelihood of mixed demersal fisheries having to stop fishing due to “choke species” (where the fishery has reached its total allowed catch for a particular species and must therefore cease fishing to avert the risk of catching more of that species), and so in some scenarios led to higher profits and catches. Management based on a sustainable Pretty Good Yield concept may therefore represent an option to reach acceptable compromises between ecological, social, and economic objectives.

What happens next?

Under the Evaluation of Fisheries Management Strategies in an Ecosystem Context work theme, we will further develop EBFM-suitable indicators, targets and limits, including social ones. We will also enhance the models we used by incorporating additional key processes such as fluctuating economic conditions and environmental influences on fish productivity. The final aim is to propose consistent targets and limits for implementing EBFM.

Read the full report here.

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