Stakeholders Meet in Reykjavík to Discuss Future of Northeast Atlantic Fisheries

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Urge adoption of “Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management” by international managers at upcoming decision-making meetings

Reykjavík, Iceland — 27 September 2023

Marine fisheries scientists and conservation experts met yesterday to discuss needed Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management (EBFM) to ensure fisheries across the Northeast Atlantic Ocean continue to thrive for the long term. The public event was convened in Reykjavik by Sciaena with The Pew Charitable Trusts and in collaboration with Icelandic organisation Landvernd. The event was attended by  over 50 participants, in person and online.

Iceland is a key Northeast Atlantic coastal state and can play a pivotal role in promoting and implementing EBFM. In 2022, Iceland caught 1.4 million tonnes of fish worth 195 Billion ISK [1.3 Billion Euros].

However, despite some recent signs of improvement, Northeast Atlantic fish populations along with the health of the marine ecosystems they depend on have been deteriorating for decades.

Alongside the need to tackle climate change, marine litter, and other anthropogenic impacts, fisheries need to be managed in a way that recognises that each fish is part of a complex ecological chain; moving beyond a focus solely on maximising the catch of individual species. 

Jean-Christophe Vandevelde, a manager for Pew’s international fisheries program, explained, “Northeast Atlantic fisheries managers continue to consider fish populations in isolation, without reflecting on environmental changes and the impacts of fishing on ecosystems and the biodiversity within them. This is out of  step with the legal obligations and international commitments made by many countries in the region. But concrete solutions, like ecosystem-based fisheries management centered around the latest science, are ready for implementation. While political action has been lacking, this year managers can make significant changes by adopting fishing rules that take the health of the entire ocean ecosystem into account, not just fisheries.

Gonçalo Carvalho, Executive Coordinator for Sciaena, said “It was great to see recognition of the key role Iceland plays in fisheries management decisions in the region. We believe that with support from Iceland and other Coastal States, EBFM can be put in place as an essential tool to achieve productive and resilient fisheries, precisely by ensuring the health of the ecosystems they depend on.”

There are immediate opportunities to do this at international fisheries management meetings in the next couple of months, such as the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), where decisions will be made on how fisheries take place in the region in 2024 and beyond,” Gonçalo Carvalho added.

Scientists from the Iceland Marine & Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) shared how Iceland is advancing in terms of science and management to secure healthy food webs and biodiverse ecosystems.

Pamela Woods, Fisheries Specialist at MFRI, stated, “Iceland has a long history of using innovative regulations to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems and fish species, implementing spatial conservation measures, and taking efforts to reduce unwanted bycatch. These are core components of EBFM and they reflect strong cooperation between Iceland fisheries managers and the fishing industry that results in benefits to fish populations as well as the people dependent on them. But more work needs to be done by fisheries managers to implement these practices across the entire Northeast Atlantic, especially with certain fish species that bridge coastal state boundaries – like the large pelagic stocks of mackerel and herring”.

During this half-day event, three panels of scientific and conservation experts explored concrete examples of EBFM implementation for specific fish species, showcased positive examples in Iceland, and discussed the practical next steps. The event wrapped up with clear agreement that continued education with managers at NEAFC and other decision-making bodies was needed. And that fisheries management decisions at these bodies, this year, could shape the health and sustainability of the North Atlantic Ocean for years to come. Implementing EBFM at NEAFC could bring long-term and continued benefits to fish populations across the Northeast Atlantic coastal states as well as to the people, industries, and economies that rely upon them.

As Þorgerður M Þorbjarnardóttir, Landvernd Chairperson, emphasised in her remarks, “Healthy ecosystems are the foundation for the future of humanity and utilisation should always focus primarily on sustaining them.”

You can watch the full event below or here. Click the button to consult the speaker’ slides.

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