The SEAwise project works to deliver a fully operational tool that will allow fishers, managers, and policy makers to easily apply Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management (EBFM) in their fisheries. This SEAwise report evaluates the current state of affairs on ecosystem based fisheries management, including an overview of regional fisheries management measures in place and an evaluation of its effectiveness in terms of its achievement of policy objectives. The evaluation considers a selection of objectives representing ecological, social and economic sustainability dimensions from the two main policy frameworks, CFP and MSFD, for which the achievement of objectives may be compromised by fishing and that are likely to benefit from EBFM. For the purposes of SEAwise we consider EBFM from the perspective of a social-ecological system and work from the assumption that EBFM advances through an adaptive management process consisting of subsequent assessment and management cycles resulting in EBFM plans. A management strategy consists of a policy instrument and a management measure. We deliberately distinguish between the two because the former operates in the social system and is the mechanism (mainly dependent on the governance) to get the fisheries management measures, supposed to mitigate the fisheries impacts in the ecological system, implemented.
Most of the main policy objectives covering ecological, social and economic sustainability were not achieved. The recently proposed Nature restoration law concluded that management measures aimed at restoring biodiversity of other species have largely been ineffective (EC 2022b). This conclusion was largely based on evaluations of species and habitats listed under the Habitat Directive and a formal assessment of the success in attaining other MSFD objectives is generally not possible due to lack of agreed thresholds (and indicators in some cases).
The objectives stated in the CFP, MSFD and associated documents for a fisheries related aspects are often not supported by agreed estimated indicators, particularly for social aspects and ecosystem effects of fishing. Where indicators have been developed, there are often no agreed thresholds. Together, this either limits an evaluation of whether objectives are attained to specific elements such as fishing pressure, fished stock biomass and status of species assessed under the habitat directive or necessitates a high degree of expert judgement with the associated lack of transparency and reproducibility. There are, however, positive changes occurring. The measures aimed at reducing fishing mortality over the past 20 years have been highly effective in reversing the trend of overfishing in most of the EU waters. Nevertheless, they have not succeeded in restoring stocks to levels capable of producing MSY.