Summary Fisheries Science Seminar 2022

DG MARE 2022 Seminar on Fisheries Science:Implementation of an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management

The European Commission’s Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) hosted the 2022 Seminar on Fisheries Science on 24 June 2022. This year’s edition of the annual Seminar on Fisheries Science of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) focused on the implementation of an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM).

In the current context of rapid climate and ocean changes, but also of increasing awareness about a wide range of various human impacts on ecosystems, there are growing needs to further take into account ecosystems considerations when managing fisheries. This science seminar took stock of recent developments in implementing an EAFM. It also identified potential areas requiring further actions, as well as the corresponding needs in terms of the scientific advice required for the policy-makers.

The seminar was opened via a video address of the European Union’s Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Mr Virginijus SINKEVIČIUS, followed by an introduction from Ms Charlina VITCHEVA, Director General, DG MARE, and a presentation by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) on how these considerations are currently being included in the scientific advice provided to managers, as well as the ongoing scientific work in this area. In a further presentation, an international perspective was provided about how EAFM is implemented in other jurisdictions (Canada, USA, and Australia). This was followed by a presentation of the outcome of a recent EU-funded study on EAFM. The scientists involved offered insights into the observations, lessons learnt and recommendations from their work. Finally, different stakeholders took part in a panel discussion to explore different perspectives on, and potential contributions to, implementing EAFM under the Common Fisheries Policy. The concluding remarks were provided by Fabrizio DONATELLA, Director in DG MARE.



Chair of the Advisory Committee of ICES


Research Scientist, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and University of New Brunswick

Gerjan PIET

Senior scientist marine ecology at Wageningen Marine Research (WMR).



National Correspondent DCF Belgium, ILVO Marine


Executive Secretary, LIFE Platform


Ocean Policy Officer, WWF

The interventions, presentations and discussions during the seminar are summarised below.

Introduction by DG MARE Director General Charlina Vitcheva

DG Vitcheva welcomed the relevance of this year’s seminar on the ecosystem approach, which ICES has long viewed as a challenge and necessity for fisheries management. She stressed that the recent stakeholder consultations highlighted how this approach is a priority for the CFP, which is a strongly science-based policy. The ecosystem approach is a more holistic approach, which can include many elements of the ecosystems affected by human activities, including fisheries.

She identified three possible priorities actions to better implement the ecosystem approach. First, the consultations with stakeholders and Members States confirm that it is urgent to address the impact of fishing on sensitive habitats and sensitive species, and she referred to DG MARE working together with DG Environment on an action plan for the conservation of fisheries resources and protection of marine ecosystems.

Second, this approach is suited for tackling climate change and rapid changes, whether chemical or biophysical, in the oceans. She highlighted the need to move from a single species approach of management to a more holistic approach, stressing the importance of information and data collection through monitoring programmes. The use of indicators offer a great potential to track the changes in the marine ecosystems.

Third, stakeholders and citizens at large can help to define the fisheries objectives and provide relevant data that contributes to scientific advice. The ecosystem approach can provide a coherent and conceptual framework for that.

A holistic ecosystem approach also benefits fisheries management policies and EU legislation, such as the EU Marine Framework Directive, Habitats Directive and Birds Directive, thus forming a coherent policy and moving away from single species fisheries management. Lastly, an ecosystem approach brings higher awareness of the need to assess the social and economic impacts of fisheries management. As Commissioner Sinkevičius also stressed, we should factor in human local knowledge of fisheries as part of the ecosystems.

Work by ICES to develop a more holistic advice by incorporating ecosystem based considerations

The challenge with ecosystem-based management, linked to ecosystem fisheries management, is dealing with a suite of competing management objectives – such as restoring seabed habitats, providing sustainable energy, building sustainable fishing communities, and maintaining good governance. How does one implement the management to deliver on those objectives?

Despite scepticism about the complexity of ecosystem-based fisheries management, much work has been done on this subject over the last four decades. The ‘FAO 2021 EAF implementation monitoring tool’ is very helpful for describing the ecosystem approach to fisheries management. It highlights three elements: ability to achieve, ecological well-being, and human well-being.

ICES is working on the ecosystem approach by putting fishing and fisheries activities in the context of other pressures and impacts on the system. It is setting local and regional priorities for management, having developed a suite of ecosystem overviews of management challenges in an ecoregion, based on human activities, priority pressures and states (habitat, food webs, benthos, fish, seabirds, and marine mammals). So ecological and political issues are assessed alongside oceanography or the environmental boundaries.

Fisheries do not operate in a vacuum. ICES uses Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) as a management tool, but this assumes an equilibrium. Yet fisheries are dynamic, with a changing ecosystem, changing fish and fisheries, etc. This makes it tough to provide advice on fisheries management. Therefore, ICES is incrementally implementing new approaches to science and fisheries advice. For instance, already 73% of ICES data-rich stock assessments include an element of ecosystem variability. ICES also provides estimates of pretty good yield for fisheries management plans, offers mixed fish scenarios for trawl fisheries in three ecoregions, and uses fish to track trends in marine biodiversity, food webs and climate change. ICES is starting to give advice to Irish Sea fisheries that respond to change in ecosystem productivity and will soon do the same for the Baltic Sea, Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast.

Challenges are significant, as shown by the tragic cod fish stock situation in the Baltic Sea, concerning the ecosystem and the people who fish and rely on that ecosystem. However, how much of this problem is fisheries management and how much is ecosystem change? It is still not clear how to resolve these challenges. However, progress is being made in setting ecosystem reference points for Baltic Sea cod.

ICES is working with stakeholders and taking into account the spatial dimension, through wider participation in processes and interactive tools for spatial advice. Since 2021, it has focused on increased participatory development of mapping tools and format of advice, with scientists and stakeholders, e.g. on the impact of bottom trawling on the seafloor. ICES will soon publish a stakeholder engagement strategy. ICES is working to reconcile the plurality of management objectives. It is crucial to provide science in the absence of agreed or comparable management objectives, while coping with a paucity of data, such as the Bycatch Roadmap.

International experiences in implementing an EAFM

The scope of EAFM is increasing. In Canada, the USA and Australia, objectives related to the ecosystem approach are increasing in scope, with four pillars: ecological, economic, social including cultural, and institutional.

In 2021, the FMARS group compared the ecosystem approach to other sustainability-related concepts internationally – including integrated management, maritime spatial planning, participatory co-management, etc. It was concluded that all these concepts are evolving towards a more holistic approach, including the four pillars mentioned above. There are considerable overlaps or considerations, with the ecosystem approach slightly stronger in ecological aspects, but together these concepts offer a quilt-like approach to sustainable governance.

In Canada, the USA and Australia, an ecosystem approach is being applied at several levels. In the USA for instance, it covers single species fisheries management through to the management of multiple activities in ecosystem-based management, such as fisheries, tourism, development, energy, eco-tourism, and oil and gas. In Australia, risk assessment is now part of the ecosystem approach. This approach is ideal to overcome shortcomings of current species-based management, which in Canada include different and incomplete objectives, no evaluation of trade-offs and no evaluation of cumulative effects. It also should influence plans to have common objectives with performance metrics for species like groundfish, herring, scallop and lobster.

With a checklist of objectives, the ecosystem approach can form a framework for EAFM, notably for scenario comparison. Increasingly, advice will move towards holistically advising on scenarios. It will set out various management options compared to the consequences ecologically, economically, socially and culturally, and from an institutional standpoint. Information can then be mixed, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Therefore, the ecosystem approach has seen an evolution in the scope of considerations, the scale of applications, and in its uses.

Most likely, ecosystem approaches to fisheries management will evolve to include ecological, economic, social/cultural and institutional/governance considerations, which are the key to evaluation of trade-offs and cumulative effects and can form the basis for integration across fishery plans as well as for Maritime Spatial Planning and Integrated Management.

Recent EU study on the ecosystem approach to fisheries management

This EMFF-funded study had two aims, first to assess the current state of affairs pertaining to the implementation of EAFM, and second to provide recommendations to advance the implementation of EAFM in the CFP. The focus was on two questions: What? (EAFM elements already in place, operational readiness, and functioning properly) and How? (applying EAFM elements, governance, advance by addressing EAFM challenges).

The study defined an approach based around an EAFM cycle, including process and elements. This five-step adaptive approach can be modified with each iteration of the cycle: defining policy objectives/societal goals; developing knowledge base; assessing management strategy, implementation EAFM plan; and follow-up evaluation performance. All this occurs within two contexts, i.e. social (including institutional) and environmental (including climate).

To advance the process, EAFM challenges were broken down into three major challenges in a hierarchical structure: i) mitigate fisheries impacts, ii) improve knowledge base and advisory process, and iii) improve decision-making process. There are typologies for defining fisheries and typologies for management, which consists of policy instruments and management measures.

For the fisheries building block, the study acknowledged the many different fisheries, including the EU identification of them. The study identified EAFM-relevant fisheries: a group of vessel voyages targeting the same (assemblage of) species and/or stocks, using similar gear, during the same period of the year and within the same area. An example was given of a Dutch pelagic trawl with a specific mesh size range for four target species. This resulted in a total of 410 level-6 metiers condensed into 180 fisheries. The goal was to capture the complexity of fisheries, while reducing the number of fisheries as much as possible to construct a useful database.

The development of the database tool was a key aspect of the work under the study. It can be used in the follow-up process to describe what is already for available for fisheries management. It could also be used to structure advances in the next cycle of EAFM. Built on Microsoft Access, the database can be easily shared and accessed. Users can interrogate and analyse database information. Linking the project’s main building blocks, the database calls on existing standards for describing information, such as species lists or gear lists. It features one system across Atlantic, Baltic, North Sea and Outer Regions, so as to include data from the Mediterranean and Black Sea. An example was presented on how to use the database to look at management measures to protect dolphins and porpoises.

A further goal of the study is to distinguish the different purposes for management measures, in order to achieve various CFP policy objectives on fisheries resources, plus environmental policy objectives, such as under the MSFD or Birds and Habitats Directives.

Panel discussion

Panellists shared their perspectives what is needed under the CFP to achieve a better implementation of an EAFM.

An important and recurring element mentioned was the need to put stakeholders at the center of an EAFM. In particular, it was stressed that there is a scope to better use the traditional knowledge of the fishing communities about the marine ecosystems, and that in turn this would improve the science as well as management decisions and buy-in by fishermen. An important challenge is how to structure this knowledge in an appropriate way to feed it into the scientific process.

In terms of data collection, it was underlines that the Data Collection Framework (DCF) has greatly evolved from initially collecting data on single species towards securing increasingly more data on the environment to answer questions at the ecosystem level, as well as more social data. References were made to the need to use recent technological developments to optimize data collection to secure and handle real time information, but also to build trust between fishermen and scientists/managers.

Reducing the impact of fishing on sensitive species and ecosystems was identified as a priority. The Panelists stressed the importance of establishing baselines as well as a sound knowledge base to assess the impact of fishing and if and how it could be mitigated. They mentioned that best practices need to be incentivized, and that one way to do this is through the implementation of Article 17 of the CFP on the allocation of fishing opportunities, but also through a more effective use of EMFAF.

Regarding the significant scope for using indicators to capture signals in the ecosystems, it was mentioned that low impact fishing involves being more selective about the species being targeted, their size, but also the gear being used and the area where to fish. The decisions made by fishermen to run their business require an important amount of information and this information is also relevant for scientists. Climate change was highlighted as a critical issue, supporting the need to design indicators that track the impact of climate on ecosystems. Again, the case was made to use the information collected by fishermen to establish relevant indicators of the ecosystems, but also of the socio economic context (state of fishing communities). The development of new technologies and the potential of Artificial Intelligence to process vast quantities of data were also mentioned, although it would be important to dissipate concerns related to the possible use of these technologies for surveillance purposes. It was also suggested that, as a general rule, when large predators such as sharks are doing well, this is also an indication that the ecosystem is doing well, and therefore this could also be the basis for identifying some ecosystem indicators.


Fabrizio Donatella welcomed the level of engagement and the open discussion on EAFM. There is clearly a consensus that there is a need as well as much scope to further implement an EAFM under the CFP. He highlighted the identified need to collect more and sometimes different types of data, as well as the importance of fishermen, scientists and managers working together towards the objective of implementing an EAFM. He also acknowledged the need to provide opportunities for stakeholders to participate more to this process. Reference was made to the existing practice in some sea basins to use a multi species approach, but also to the importance of addressing the issue of the impact of fishing on sensitive species and habitats. In this context, Fabrizio Donatella referred to the ongoing preparations by DG MARE and DG Environment of an Action Plan on the Biodiversity Strategy specifically focusing on these aspects. Finally, while pointing out that the implementation of an effective EAFM would likely have some implications for fishermen in terms of the necessary tradeoffs – in particular initially – he also underlined the importance of having the right type of governance structure to ensure the appropriate involvement of stakeholders in the decision making process.