Should Europe's fisherman have marine "stewardship" role?
15 January 2005, CIESM News

European scientists have come up with a pioneering North Sea fisheries management plan, which recognizes the importance of humans and their interaction with the marine environment, or ecosystem. The scientists, who are funded by the European Union, have produced the North Sea Fisheries Ecosystem Plan (FEP), which shows how an ‘ecosystem approach’ could be introduced to manage the North Sea fisheries and highlights the importance of consulting stakeholders, like fishermen, in developing management plans. The creation of stewardship roles for those living and working in close contact with the sea, similar to those adopted by landowners and farmers to maintain the countryside, are among the new FEP proposals. The study follows the expansion of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) to include the effect of the environment on fish stocks and how fishing affects the ecosystem. It calls for more opportunities for those fishing communities and interested parties to be included in the decision-making process.

The North Sea FEP argues that a mixture of measures is required to achieve a sustainable fishing industry, as no single measure is likely to be the cure. It should include: encouraging fishermen to take on a ‘stewardship’ role to protect the marine ecosystem; increasing the role of stakeholders in developing fisheries policies; reducing fishing now and permanently to promote long term sustainability; providing aid for the transition towards an ecosystem approach; introducing spatial management, including the use of protected areas; using incentives to promote the use of less destructive fishing techniques such as nets with much larger mesh and spatial restrictions of bottom trawls.

During the development of the FEP, stakeholders were asked what they considered to be the main threats to the North Sea ecosystem and its fisheries, as well as their preferred management tools. The researchers then used this information to model how various forms of management can be used to protect important aspects of the North Sea ecosystem, including the fisheries. According to the lead scientist “Policy makers have been criticized in the past for having a ‘top down’ approach to fisheries management. However our team has worked closely with the fishing industry and other interested parties to come up with a framework which should see fish stocks rebuilt and the environment protected”.
Fishermen spend their lives at sea, they know and understand the environment, and it will be useful to have them play a more direct role in the stewardship of our fish stocks, marine life and marine heritage.