Knowledge Based Bio-Economy


Ecosystem approach to marine fisheries

Project acronym: MEFEPO

Title of project: Making the European Fisheries Ecosystem Plan Operational

Research area: Ecosystem-based fisheries management

Contract No: 212881

EU contribution: € 2,999,909

Start date: 01-09 -2008

Duration: 36 months


Since the reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy in 2002, effort has been devoted to addressing the governance, scientific, social and economic issues required to introduce an ecosystem approach to European marine fisheries. Fisheries management needs to support the 'three pillars of sustainability’ (ecological, social and economic) and Fisheries Ecosystem Plans (FEPs) have been developed to further the ecosystem approach in fisheries management and used as a tool to assist managers considering the implications of their decisions. Building upon lessons learned from research completed at national and EU level (e.g. FP-5 funded EFEP Project), MEFEPO is considering how FEPs can be made operational for 3 regional seas: the North Sea, North-Western Waters and South-Western Waters. MEFEPO is focussing on how best to make current institutional frameworks responsive to an ecosystem approach to fisheries management at regional and pan-European levels in accordance with the principles of good governance. This involves developing new linkages and means of allowing dialogue between the variousgroups of stakeholders, as well as integrating the considerable body of ecological, fisheries, social and economic research which has been developed in recent years. It is also investigating how existing institutional frameworks need to evolve to incorporate this information and develop a decision-making process which integrates a wide breadth of interests.

Expected impacts

The Green Paper on the new reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) highlighted the need for fundamental renovation of the CFP in order to address the shortcomings of current European fisheries' management. MEFEPOwas designed to provide an evidence base (scientific and social) to underpin discussions over the future of the CFP and the move to sustainable fisheries managed in an ecosystem context. The results can have a significant impact on the CFP reform, and contribute to the development of ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) and the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). The results to date are already contributing to these objectives with considerable interaction between the project, stakeholders (e.g. through the Regional Advisory Councils or RACs), managers and decision-makers, for example through project workshops. The production and dissemination of regional atlases has granted stakeholders (e.g. fishing industry, NGOs, etc.) access to reliable information on the state of the marine environment (ecological, social and economic) and the issues that need to be addressed. The analysis of various management options, including those based on a regional approach, will provide detailed information reflecting the views of the many different stakeholder groups of direct interest to the legislator when drafting the new Common Fisheries Policy.. The project has examined how existing institutional frameworks need to evolve to develop dialogue between the disparate groups of marine stakeholders and has considered the possible impact of having new stakeholders involved in decision making. Key operational challenges to the implementation of ecosystem-based fisheries management have been addressed to inform effective FEPs implementation. The final stage of the MEFEPO project is the development of a management strategy planning matrix that can be used to explore potential impacts of different combinations of management tools on ecological, social and economic descriptors, and which can be used as a management support tool for decision making.

Expected results

The project has developed a new reporting framework to align the information from the three ‘pillars of sustainability’ and considerable effort was invested in developing comprehensive (technical and non-technical) regional reviews on the ecological, social and economic features. A set of operational environmental objectives for fisheries management was developed based on commitments under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and the project provided the first attempt to assess the impacts of fishing on multiple environmental objectives across large marine regions within the context of the MSFD. Emphasis was on ‘operationally applicable methods’ but indicators and datasets were considered lacking for all 4 "Good Environmental Status" (GES) descriptors considered in the context of the directive to be directly affected by fishing activities (biodiversity, commercial stocks, food webs and sea-floor) preventing therefore acomprehensive assessment. The operation of the CFP and its appropriateness as a tool for managing the EU fisheries was found to be dependent on the actors (stakeholder groups) involved and the power structure in which they operated. The project has examined how regionalisation could be implemented to respond to the needs of EBFM. A survey of RAC participants identified legitimacy as the key factor for considering regionalisation and identified the Regional Fisheries Management Organisation and Regional Fisheries Co-Management Organisation models as those with the greatest stakeholder support. Management scenarios with different objectives were used to explore together with relevant stakeholders the trade-offs between social, economic and environmental components. This work demonstrated that decision-support tools could be used to deliver a preferred management scenario to achieve policy objectives in a formal and transparent process combining stakeholder opinion with scientific evidence. Through stakeholder workshops, the project considered the best approaches to overcome 3 key operational challenges to EBFM: governance structure, regionalisation and knowledge base. These findings are being incorporated in the final stage of the project which focuses on the development of draft operational FEPs for the three regions.

Website of project:


Coordinator: Chris Frid,

Organisation: School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool,


Université de Bretagne Occidentale, France,

Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture (CEFAS), UK,

Marine Institute, Ireland,

Instituto Nacional de Recursos Biologicos I.P., Portugal,

Instituto de Mar, University of Coimbra, Portugal,

Universitete i Tromsø, Norway,

Innovative Fisheries, University of Aalberg, Denmark,

Wageningen Institute for Marine Resources & Ecosystem Studies (IMARES), Netherlands,

Instituto Espanol de Oceanografia, Spain,