Garcia, S. M. and K. L. Cochrane (2005). “Ecosystem approach to fisheries: A review of implementation guidelines.” ICES Journal of Marine Science 62(3): 311-318.
Garcia and Cochrane provide some international context to the ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF), focusing on the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and activities arising from the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). In particular, the WSSD calls for the lofty goals of elimination of destructive fishing practices, establishment of MPAs, and watershed planning by 2012, a deadline almost sure to be missed.
Garcia and Cochrane review aspects of the EAF as envisioned by the FAO. They are careful to note where conventional fisheries management may be difficult to adapt to an ecosystem context. For example, fisheries management typically deals with the “provisioning” services of an ecosystem (the stuff the ocean gives us – fish and jobs), but not so much the “cultural” services (that great feeling you get when you smell the sea air or the sudden pause you get thinking that right now, somewhere in the ocean, a white shark with ties to millions of years of evolution is shredding another fish back into proteins while nearby a tuna darts away warily) or the “supporting” services (nutrient cycling). Also, in conventional fisheries management resource conservation is really a thin veil for livelihood conservation. These approaches contrast with EAF in that the EAF puts protection of the natural ecosystem first.
Their figure 1 is a great illustration of the complexity of adopting EAF, or “extending” conventional management into EAF. But the current paper argues that there may be some hope here, by modifying existing infrastructures to an ecosystem approach. In doing so, new problems arise (you need to get the political will and buy-in from industry to move the ecosystem concept forward) and ever-present problems are still there (socio-economics of fishing as a livelihood).
A key statement here is, “The higher level of uncertainty inherent in an EAF requires also a capacity for the system to adapt as information improves.” How to make an adaptable system? Again, I go back to Vermeij, who goes back to nature for his wisdom in. According to Vermeij, the most adaptable life forms are decentralized, relying on some basic “top down” orders, but letting semi-autonomous units sense and respond to the environment. This argument is echoed here in Garcia and Cochrane’s call for a decentralized process in which “lower-level processes can develop”.
The bulk of the article is dedicated to how those lower level processes—the “on the water” activities, rather than the rhetoric—can develop. EAF must have a policy, a strategy, and a management plan. In their vision, the policy is the connector – the way of harmonizing the high-level (e.g., federal or global) fishery goals with other national goals and aspirations and ethics or norms. As an illustration, think about the difference here with Norway and the US’ policies on whaling – one wants to whale, the other doesn’t. Norway is working on policies that try incorporate whaling with an EAF as critically discussed by Corkeron 2006. The US, where many people have fuzzy, but strongly held positions against killing whales, supports a policy of working toward EAF, but without the whaling. The strategy is how you rank what you are going to do within the policy. For example, if the policy is to restore ecosystems, the strategy might be to replant native shore grasses, then reduce nitrogen runoff, then reduce harvesting of coastal fish through the creation of MPAs, or some completely different combination. The strategy also includes establishing all the relationships, identifying the stakeholders and developing a process for decision making. Finally, the management plan—all that policy and strategy supposedly takes hold here—but it’s not a quick process either. Here’s where the data are gathered, performance measures and benchmarks are sent, people argue, projects begin, monitoring occurs, and hopefully, projects are adapted based on results of the monitoring.
All this will take a greatly increased capacity—for everything and for the key sectors – policy makers, scientists, and industry. As examples: Getting multiple stakeholders together. Making legislation and agencies work in harmony. Clarifying ecosystem interactions. Identify reference values and benchmarks. Observing on vessels. Reducing fishing capacity. Changing fishing gear. Getting more data on the resources. And, importantly, finding a way to store and disseminate all the data associated with these activities. Ready to get going?