Sea Management: A Theoretical Approach

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Two important and related requirements of the new management context are the need for more caution and for better inter-generational equity. The latter issue concerns the ethics of renewable resource use and the moral obligation placed on the current generation to exploit the resources and enact conservation measures in such a manner as to preserve options for future generations. The poor control of fisheries development by fishery management authorities is one of the major reasons for the present state of fisheries.

In natural ecosystems, the abundance of preys and predators, and their variations, are controlled and maintained within limits compatible with the ecosystems sustainability by a set of complex interactions and feed-back mechanisms.

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As such, their survival depends on the survival of their living resources and they are certainly far more sensitive to natural feedback information on the state of the resources they exploit than industrial systems using oceans as a resource for waste-dumping. However, contrary to natural predators, fishermen are not entirely controlled by feedback signals of resource stress.

Their operations are not totally dependent on the abundance of the various elements of the resource ecosystem and, indeed, are partly isolated from such feedback controls by various mechanisms such as price increases as resources become scarcer , technological improvements in efficiency, shifts to other species or areas, and governmental subsidies. They can, therefore, continue and even expand their operations despite the environmental and resource degradation they may produce.

Section 1 of the document defines the objectives of the precautionary approach in the specific field of fisheries.

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Section 2 proposes some definitions of key concepts used in the document. Section 3 provides an updated review of trends and perspectives in the development in the concepts and applications of the principle of precautionary action, including both the precautionary principle and precautionary approach. Section 4 concentrates on one of the major issues related to, and indeed justifying, precaution such as the uncertainty due to incomplete knowledge, the potential errors in decision-making and the consequent potential risk.

Sections 5, 6 and 7 describe the implications of the precautionary approach and provide practical guidance for its application in the respective areas of research, technology development and transfer, and conservation and management.

The conclusion provides a summary of the approach and its prospects, focusing particularly on management. The modern requirement to deal explicitly with uncertainty, in order to reduce risks to the resources and their environment and indeed to the fishing communities , requires significant changes in the fields of science, technology and fishery management. Such changes are required in order to effectively deal with the unprecedented shift in policy and international relations and with the metamorphosis of public perceptions and political demands resulting from the UN Law of the Sea Convention, UNCED and its Agenda One of the elements of change is the requirement for a more precautionary approach to natural resources management.

The concept of precautionary action aims generally at improving conservation of the environment and the resources by reducing the risk of inadvertently damaging them. More specifically, it aims at helping decision-makers and regulators to take a safeguarding decision, when the scientific work is inconclusive but a course of action has to be chosen.

The Scientific Approaches to Risk and Risk Management: A Critical Review

In addition, it intends to promote a more equitable balance between the short-term considerations which led to the present environmental degradation and overfishing and long-term considerations such as the need to conserve resources for future generations. It aims at promoting inter-generational equity by reducing the cost of our decisions for future generations and by counteracting the effects of current high economic discount rates which provide a strong incentive to overfish, maximizing the discounted net benefits from a stock and, de facto , giving preference to present consumption over future consumption 1.

By comparison, and despite the fact that it theoretically aims at sustainability, conventional fishery management addresses primarily, and rather inefficiently, the issue of inter-generational equity and allocation of resources between present users. The concept of precautionary action will also directly benefit present generations of fishers and consumers if fishery authorities and industry actively promote its implementation by other economic sectors whose activities damage ocean productivity, fishing communities' livelihood and consumers' health 2.

However, there are severe practical difficulties in determining and implementing such rates. A more satisfactory solution would appear to be through proper pricing of resources, including not only the marginal cost of harvesting, but also the foregone value of catches no longer available to future generations. The literature on the precautionary principle or approach is loaded with terms the meaning of which may not always be obvious or universally agreed and, in order to facilitate common understanding, this section proposes some definitions with their source.

The original ones draw heavily from the discussions in the following sections and should be considered together with them. Acceptable impact: A negative, or potentially negative, alteration of the exploited natural system, resulting from human activities i. Its acceptability is continuously kept under review and can be revocated on the basis of new knowledge.

Caution practised in advance. Action taken in advance of scientific certainty but within the bounds of scientific uncertainty, to avoid or minimize negative impact, taking into account the potential consequences of being wrong modified from a definition in relation to global climate change by Turner, O'Riordan and Kemp, Precautionary approach : A set of agreed cost-effective measures and actions, including future courses of action, which ensures prudent foresight, reduces or avoids risk to the resources, the environment, and the people, to the extent possible, taking explicitly into account existing uncertainties and the potential consequences of being wrong 3.

A rule or standard, especially of good behaviour. Fishery development should be stopped before reaching it. If a LRP is inadvertently reached, management action should severely curtail or stop fishery development, as appropriate, and corrective action should be taken. Stock rehabilitation programmes should consider an LRP as a very minimum rebuilding target to be reached before the rebuilding measures are relaxed or the fishery is re-opened.

Management action, whether during a fishery development or stock rebuilding process, should aim at maintaining the fishery system at its level. Fairly similar to LRPs in their utility, the ThRPs' specific purpose is to provide an early warning, reducing further the risk that the TRP or LRP is inadvertently passed due to uncertainty in the available information or to the inertia of the management and industry system. Adding precaution to the management set-up, they might be necessary only for resources or situations involving particularly high risk.

A method for generating different probability distributions with accompanying cost and benefits that may attend different courses of action. Someting uncertain. Annex 5. There is no explicit reference to the principle in the Convention. In addition, ecosystem conservation also requires measures for the fisheries sector, striking a balance between the provisions for environmental conservation and fisheries management to ensure sustainable exploitation. However, in fisheries, the concept of precautionary action seem to have progressively become an important factor in negotiations between States to establish management measures in circumstances where there is an obligation to negotiate in good faith to reach agreement e.

It can be assumed that, given the wide support for this concept in environmental law, a State which refers objectively to it will hope that it cannot be accused of bad faith Burke, The concept is also developing in national fisheries management regimes. Although the two terms relate equally well to the concept of caution in management, and sometimes not differentiated by scholars e. It is particularly more appropriate for fisheries because consequences of errors in their development or mismanagement are unlikely to threaten the future of humanity and, in most cases, are reversible.

These two concepts are further elaborated below.


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This principle's most characteristic attributes are that: a it requires authorities to take preventive action when there is a risk of severe and irreversible damage to human beings; b action is required even in the absence of certainty about the damage and without having to wait for full scientific proof of the cause-effect relationship, and c when there is disagreement on the need to take action, the burden of providing the proof is reversed and placed on those who contend that the activity has or will have no impact.

The principle has been referred to and applied at national level in relation to human activities with potentially severe effects on human health engineering, the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, nuclear power plants, etc. In the s, following the Stockholm Conference, concern for human safety was progressively extended to the human environment and to other species.


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This led to increasingly frequent reference to the principle in international agreements and conventions, often with limited consideration of its practical implications. It has been introduced at international level at the First International Conference on the Protection of the North Sea in relation to persistent toxic substances susceptible to bioaccumulation in the marine ecosystem. The Declaration of this Conference contains an example of the concept of precaution in relation to coastal States' jurisdiction, habitats, species and fisheries, including pollution from ships.

The scope of application of the precautionary principle was successively broadened from persistent toxic substances to all synthetic persistent substances, natural substances released in large quantities e. The principle has been invoked in issues related to the ozone layer Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer where States agreed to reduce emissions of certain substance at a time when the causal links had not yet been firmly established Boelaert-Suominen and Cullinan, It has also ben referred to in relation to the greenhouse effect and the conservation of nature.

It has touched indirectly on fisheries through provisions in the international convention on dumping at sea the Paris and Oslo Conventions, Marpol relating to pollution by fishing vessels. The principle has also been considered as particularly appropriate in the context of Integrated Coastal Areas Management Boelaert-Suominen and Cullinan, because of the vulnerability of coastal resources, the likelihood of swift and irreparable harm, and the incomplete understanding available on the complex web of interconnected biological processes in the coastal area.

The principle remains contentious both within the scientific community and from the point of view of policy-makers and these controversies are illustrated in the fact that there is, as yet, no generally accepted formulation of the principle. When the interpretation of the principle is softened, the border between it and the approach is significantly blurred. For instance, Young , cited by Dovers and Handmer, , proposes to consider four different levels of application of the principle, corresponding to decreasing levels of risk, potential degree of irreversibility, and uncertainty:.

Level 1: Impacts are potentially serious unacceptable or irreversible and uncertainty is high: a strict application of the principle is required, insisting on complete reversibility and putting a strong burden of proof 6 on development proponents.

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Level 2: Impacts may be serious but potentially reversible and a reasonable amount of data is available to appreciate risk: large safety margins should be ensured in assessments and decisions and use of the best available technology should be strictly required, i. The best available technology is required only if economical.

Level 4: Potential losses are considered neither serious nor irreversible: decisions could be based on traditional cost-benefit analysis. The conditions for the application of levels 3 and 4 and their implications are very similar to the conditions and implications of the precautionary approach and illustrates that these two related concepts are sometimes difficult to distinguish. The resolution expressed concern about the size of the fleets, the length of the nets, their mode of operation, their potential impact on anadromous and highly migratory species, their by-catch and the concern of coastal countries on the state of resources close to their exclusive economic zones.

It recommended that a worldwide moratorium should be imposed on all driftnet fishing by 30 June and it established a set of immediate and regionally tailored interim measures. It also provided that such measures would not be imposed in a region or, if implemented, could be lifted, should effective conservation and management measures be taken upon statistically sound analysis to be made jointly by concerned parties. The proposal is rational but the flaws in the process followed for the implementation of the resolution have been underlined Miles, , ; Burke, Freeberg and Miles, The consequences of this resolution, after heated international debate and political pressure, has led to the discontinuation of the issuance of fishing licences and research for alternative fishing techniques, in Japan and Taiwan Province of China ; the docking and conversion of driftnet fishing vessels in the Republic of Korea and a regulation by the European Union see below.

Large-scale driftnet fishing stopped in the South Pacific in —93 but some fishing continued in the Mediterranean and Bay of Biscay, where scientific experiments were conducted to assess the fishery's impact on the associated small cetaceans. Many other Mediterranean countries, however, have taken regulations prohibiting driftnet fishing in their waters. In considering the introduction of more precaution in fisheries management and development, the main differences between fisheries impacts and chemical industries pollution for the control of which the precautionary principle was created must be kept in mind:.

In the early s, the precautionary approach has been progressively more accepted and its field of application has been broadened to include the management of natural renewable resources, including fisheries. The aims of the precautionary approach are similar to those of the precautionary principle from which the approach is sometimes difficult to distinguish.

The main difference between the principle and the approach might be that the latter considers explicitly the social and economic implications of its application in order to ensure that: a it does not lead to imbalance in favour of non-fishery uses and future generations with undue strain on present generations and the fishery sector, and b that unavoidable short-term costs to the fishery sector are mitigated and equitably shared. The various interlinked processes that lead to the widespread adoption of the precautionary approach in fisheries, are briefly described below.

UNCED stressed the need for a precautionary approach to ocean development in its Rio Declaration and in Agenda 21, particularly in its chapters on the management of coastal areas, resources under national jurisdiction and high seas resources. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall be not used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. UNCED led to agreement on two principles which are intuitively reasonable and potentially contradictory: the precautionary approach and the principle of economic efficiency.

The delicate co-existence of these two principles impedes the development of safeguards against uncontrolled decisions or lack of decisions. This Code stresses that, in a context of rapidly changing population pressures, the impact of the introduction of species to enhance the potential of sustainable fisheries should be examined in the light of the likely impacts of alternative development strategies, involving environmental degradation and likely to result in changes in species composition of both the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

More recently, in a review of the FAO programme in marine fisheries management, Garcia identified some of the challenges to be faced by fisheries in the period — The Cancun Declaration contains a fairly complete prescription for modern fishery management covering environmental impacts; multispecies by-catch and discards issues; effort control requirements; etc.

One year later, however, the Inter-American Conference on Responsible Fishing Mexico City, July referred to the need to take precaution into account in the Code of Conduct on Responsible Fishing, particularly in the high seas. Following a first attempt to analyse in detail the various implications of the concept of precautionary action in fisheries research, management and development Garcia, , a document was prepared by FAO, to comply with a request by the UN Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks Second Session, July Even though it was prepared for a meeting on straddling and highly migratory resources, the document was considered by FAO as generally pertinent for all resources and fisheries, whether in the high seas or under national jurisdiction, because it was felt and stated that, if a resource required precaution, it should be provided regardless of the type of jurisdiction, and the set of management measures applied to the various life stages of a transboundary resource should be coherent across its entire area of distribution.

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It suggested using limit reference points LRPs as a way to increase the precautionary nature of the management set-up. The Code includes a section on precautionary approach as part of the Article 6 on Fisheries Management 9. The implementation of the Code of Conduct will be facilitated by a series of specific guidelines, one of which will address the precautionary approach to fisheries management including aspects related to the introduction of new species.

The precautionary approach promoted by FAO is being progressively reflected in the fishery sector reality. The applications to inland fisheries and aquaculture have been already mentioned above.