Ecosystem-based approach: there’s no catch…
With the introduction of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management in the 2002 CFP reform, the EU committed to conduct its fisheries in a way that minimises damage to the marine environment. This need has been reiterated in the EU Biodiversity Strategy which calls for a fisheries management that would not significantly impact on other species and ecosystems, in support of achieving Good Environment Status under the MSFD. The current European Commission’s CFP reform proposal aims to strengthen the ecosystem based approach in fisheries through technical measures and multiannual plans, but it fails short of providing tools and incentives for a genuine shift towards an ecosystem approach.
Seabirds, which account for 12% of birds in the EU, are one of the most visible and best studied groups of species. Unfortunately, they are currently a good indicator of how far from reality an ecosystem-based approach still is (Sea-birds & by-catch). It has taken the European Commission more than a decade to adopt the EU Action Plan for reducing incidental catches of seabirds in fisheries – the EU’s blue print for addressing the seabird by-catch issue, which is currently in the final stages of adoption by the European Commission. There is still long way to go, before the proposed actions are properly implemented to stop the needless death of estimated 200 000 seabirds per year (BirdLife priorities for implementation of the Seabird by-Catch Action Plan).
One of the reasons why the EU has been failing to deliver on the ecosystem approach to fisheries management is the lack of systematic data collection on the impacts of fisheries on marine ecosystems. It is vital that the new Data Collection Regulation obliges EU Member States to collect and share ecosystem data, including on seabird by-catch.
A positive development can be observed in the fact that the Ecological Quality Objectives (EcoQOs) for seabird abundance developed for the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR), were officially adopted at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) Working Group for seabird ecology in January 2012 and will be assessed on an annual basis. Other EcoQOs relating to seabirds are also being proposed for seabird targets under the MSFD, which will hopefully give them a stronger status and help to achieve a greater level of coordination between EU Member States where they are proposed as GES targets.
Regional coordination has also been carried out in the Baltic Sea, where the HELCOM CORESET project is developing core indicators for the abundance of waterbirds in the breeding season and wintering season, the number of oiled waterbirds and the number of drowned waterbirds in fishing gears. The HELCOM core indicators, once approved by the Contracting Parties, will be used for Baltic Sea wide assessments for the MSFD and the Baltic Sea Action Plan.