Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management and Certification: Extending Certification Principles Beyond Single Species
Over 50 million (> 90%) of the world's fishers engage in small-scale fishing in coastal oceans. They produce over half of the world's annual marine fish catch resulting in an array of dominant influences on coastal ecosystems. Although characteristics of small scale fisheries (SSFs) can vary significantly according to location and context, many share certain features. For example, most SSFs exploit a wide variety of fish or shellfish stocks that are managed by numerous regional and local governance regimes. An SSF may be engaged in either subsistence or commercial fishing, or more commonly, both.
Fisheries certification is a recent marine conservation tool intended to improve fishery management and conservation efforts by providing market-based incentives that lead to price or security premiums (a win-win situation). The current focus of certification is on the harvest of a single resource; however, most SSFs target a variety of species with a variety of techniques, each with potentially different ecological consequences. In addition, many large-scale fisheries (e.g., trawls) target multi-species assemblages with the same gear type.
Current certification guidelines may focus on the least threatening fishing practice, and fail to address proper incentives for reducing the impacts of highly damaging fishing practices taking place in the same area, perhaps by the same fishers. For example, certification of the Baja California red spiny lobster (Panulirus interruptus) fishery, which is the first and only SSF to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), does not address the harmful impacts of gillnets used during the lobster closed season by lobster fisherman in several cooperatives.
Proper management of SSFs has overwhelming biological, social, and economic importance to the integrity and sustainability of coastal marine populations, ecosystems, and associated human communities. However, the scarcity of data for conducting stock assessment and evaluation of ecological impacts by most SSFs makes development of the certification process difficult. Moreover, the multi-species, multi-fleet nature of most SSFs presents additional challenges for securing sustainable management of diverse marine resources and ultimately whole ecosystems.
Applying fisheries certification principles to SSFs that farm multiple species could create incentives for improved stewardship and sustainability of marine resources in some of the most productive and diverse coastal regions of the world. In addition, SSF-related by-catch and habitat damage limited by SSF sustainability incentives have potential application to large-scale, industrial fisheries. The development and application of ecological principles and standards for multi-species certification has definitive potential for positive marine conservation efforts extending well beyond Baja California marine ecosystems to other marine eco-regions worldwide.
Fisheries certification emphasizing single-species production rather than ecosystem protection may not address important linkages between resources harvested by seafood producers and their cumulative impacts. The benefits of certification standards based on the cumulative set of activities occurring in an ecosystem include new stewardship incentives paired with applications for the implementation of ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) in multi-species fisheries.
The goal of the EBFM master project is the development of an ecosystem-based certification regime applicable to small- and large-scale fisheries worldwide.
Ecosystem-based fisheries management master project focus questions:
1. What are the general principles and tools that should guide a producer-based, multi-species certification assessment?
2. How can these assessment tools be used to identify a set of specific management measures and standards that SSF producers could adopt to become certified?
3. What are the expected direct (from the certification) and indirect (from the assessment process) benefits of a producer-based, multi-species certification process?
4. What are the additional standards and practical guidelines for conducting multi-species certification assessments in small and large-scale fisheries?
The Biocomplexity project, (Micheli, principal investigator and coordinator), which investigated the biophysical and socioeconomic processes influencing the performance of nine fishing cooperatives federated in the Federacción Regional de Sociedades Cooperativas de la Industria Pesquera Baja California (FEDECOOP), generated major datasets from which to draw. The FEDECOOP spiny lobster fishery has received the MSC eco-label because of successful completion of current single-species certification assessment.
A large amount of biophysical, anthropological, and economic data has come from these fisheries as part of research activities conducted with funds from the National Science Foundation Biocomplexity in the Environment program. The datasets generated through this research and ongoing collaboration with local fisheries managers, cooperative directors, community members, technical staff, Mexican and US academic scientists, and national and international NGOs (including Comunidad y Biodiversidad [COBI], and the World Wildlife Fund's Community Fisheries Program) yield an information base useful for further analysis and assessment of the feasibility and guiding principles of a multi-species, producer-based certification.
A workshop consisting of fisheries experts and marine ecologists from around the world was held in April 2009 to further develop tools and indicators for evaluating ecological impacts of multiple fisheries occurring in the same ecosystem. Activities of the working group extended from progress achieved to date by Micheli et al. in the following areas:
1. establishing principles for single-species certification,
2. establishing principles for ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) approaches,
3. producing in-depth descriptions and investigations of the Baja California (FEDECOOP) marine ecosystems and fisheries through the Baja Biocomplexity Project.
The 2009 workshop report regarding ecologically-oriented marine protection discussed:
1. the perceived ecologic, economic, and regional benefits of multi-species certification,
2. required data sets and any pertinent methodologies to be used by certifying authorities,
3. major obstacles when comparing multi- vs. single-species certifying processes, paired with management-oriented, practical solutions,
4. additional standards and practical guidelines for multi-species certification assessments.
In summary, the ecosystem-based fisheries management master project both defines and evaluates ways to extend the certification incentives to a wide variety of fisheries that are outside the scope of the current MSC certification regime. By combining analyses and models using existing data, interviews, case studies, and input from international experts, appropriate certification standards for multi-species fisheries, including how to transform assessments into management measures aimed at reducing ecosystem impacts, have been articulated and can now be put into action. The end result is a novel approach to fisheries certification that will cover all fishing activities by a common set of resource harvesters within a geographic area of interest.