The Ecosystem Approach (EA) provides a set of principles for sustainable use of marine ecosystem and resources. As regards fisheries, the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF) requires that fisheries management be concerned not only with target species, but also with other living resources and the environment at large. The Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF), an approach for the implementation of the CCRF, includes as one of its main principles the need to maintain human and ecosystem health, including both biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
EAF also calls for the use of a suite of management tools that recognise the need for sustainable use of marine resources and protection of the marine and coastal environment as a prerequisite for sustainable fisheries. One of the tools that has potential for assisting in the maintenance of ecosystem integrity in fisheries, and is also widely used as a management tool for nature conservation, is Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). MPAs also directly address another operational principle of EAF, coordination and harmonization across sectors.
Spatial management tools, such as MPAs, that are linked to specific areas and thus highlight the interaction of fisheries with other potential uses of the same areas, are particularly useful in addressing impacts from multiple sectors. Such management tools should also be embedded in broader spatial management frameworks for coasts and the ocean that are being increasingly used to create effective cross-sectoral management and collaboration in marine and coastal spaces.
However, in practice MPAs are often created independent of overall sectoral and cross-sectoral management frameworks and policies. MPAs are rarely designed or implemented in dialogue between for example fisheries and conservation efforts. There is an opportunity to realise the potential of MPAs to reconcile fisheries management and conservation by examining key issues and solutions in the implementation of MPAs and related policies. In addition, there is also an important level of misunderstandings about the effects and goals of MPAs between those that work on fisheries and conservation, leading to a lack of coordination and collaboration regarding the implementation and general use of MPAs. These issues necessitate a greater level of bridging and linkages between the fisheries and conservation community to ensure more effectively managed MPAs with sound management objectives.
A number of international processes and organisations have recognised this challenge and are addressing issues related to sustainable marine and coastal resource use. The FAO is in the process of publishing guidelines on MPAs in a fisheries context that focus on bridging the fisheries and conservation community to complement earlier guidance on fisheries management based on the
CCRF. Other resources are being developed to inform the discussions on broader management frameworks such as the UNEP guidance on the Ecosystem Approach and MPA Governance, as well as completed guidance on marine spatial planning by UNESCO/IOC and the Nordic Council of Ministers, and regional and global work on MPAs for fisheries management and ecosystem conservation.
Despite the abundance of guidance and information on MPAs, there is still a need for consolidated information on practical experiences and lessons learned on the implementation of MPAs and linkages to related policies. In addition, national and regional experiences can provide important information on how institutional frameworks and policies have worked to improve the linkages to overall fisheries management within an ecosystem approach to fisheries, and in turn how to make sure that EAF is appropriately linked to broader coastal and ocean management frameworks.