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-target fish species, interest in bycatch has focussed mainly on marine mammals, but problems exist with seabirds and benthic organisms as well187. Fishing changes both trophic relationships and the genetic make-up of populations188. Fisheries also generate impacts on marine habitats; especially bottom trawl nets remove physical features, and reduce the complexity of structures that maintain biodiversity189.


  • Fish stocks are a common pool resource, meaning a resource from which it is costly to exclude users. When such resources are valuable and there is open access, users have no incentive to conserve since the fruits of such conservation can simply be taken by another user190. This is the main reason the global fleet is far larger than what is needed for sustainable fishing. To protect both economic value and environmental integrity, access to the resource must be controlled. This is most effectively done by a combination of access rights for individuals or groups, a set of technical restrictions on when, where and how to fish, and monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. Management functions are nearly always the responsibility of government acting on behalf of the public who are the final owners of the resource. However, hard experience has shown that the complexity of fisheries makes effective “top down” management nearly impossible. Extensive stakeholder participation, particularly by the fishing industry and environmental advocates, has played an important role nearly every time fisheries management has worked well191.

    The Science/Policy Institutions of the Common Fisheries Policy
        1. Scientific input is a critical factor in fisheries management and the way this is handled in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) of the European Union is particularly illuminating. In spite of arguably having the largest, best financed, and best trained fisheries science cadre on the planet, the EU has one of the weakest sustainability records. In 2002, scientific advisory work for the CFP cost 78 million Euros and 4500 person days were spent by scientist in related international meetings192. The European Commission itself describes the result: “88% of Community stocks are being fished beyond Maximum Sustainable Yield ... 30% of these stocks are outside safe biological limits ... European fisheries today depend on young and small fish that mostly get caught before they can reproduce”193.


        2. Only two parts of the science/policy interface of the CFP actually touch the sea: the fishing and research survey vessels. Both of these feed data into the National Fisheries Institutes (NFIs), the fisheries laboratories operated by EU Member States. Survey vessels gather data through scientific protocols while fishing fleets do so through mandated data collection procedures outlined by the EU’s Data Collection Regulation.

        3. The fisheries advice system moves up to the European level when the NFIs supply their scientists, along with their data, to the expert groups of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). This is a multi-lateral organization with 20 member countries. At ICES expert groups assess stocks; these assessments are passed on to review groups, and then to groups that draft advice based on the assessments. The advice becomes official ICES advice when approved by the Advisory Committee, on which all ICES member countries sit.
        4. ICES gives this official advice to the European Commission where the central actor is the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE). Fisheries advisors do not receive the advice directly; rather it passes through the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF). The critical difference between STECF and ICES is that STECF operates under DG MARE’s direct control. However, ICES and STECF scientists are mainly the same people. Because of this redundancy, and a desire for increased saliency of advice, some at DG MARE have argued that resources should be shifted from ICES to STECF194. However, the EU negotiates the sharing of many important fish stocks with Norway, Russia, and Iceland and these negotiations required an independent source of fisheries advice. This reality secures ICES’ role.


        5. When the advice generation process is over, DG MARE makes proposals on the fisheries legislation for the coming year to the Council of Ministers. The Council makes the final decisions, but they must be based on a Commission proposal. Once these negotiations start, the role of scientific advice is formally ended.

    Weaknesses and Gaps in the CFP Science/Policy Interface

        1. An underlying weakness is that the CFP, and hence its science/policy interface, is primarily designed to divide single species fish stocks among Member States. Not only does this mean that conservation takes second place, by design if not stated intent, the single-species focus also impedes ecosystem considerations, including more realistic approaches to biodiversity.
        2. The problem of dividing the fish has also led to the heavy use of quota-based management, i.e. controlling how many fish can be taken, rather than effort-based management, i.e. controlling how much time people can fish. Quota management is both more politically expedient and economically efficient because quotas are easy to measure, and hence to divide among Member States or trade among fishers. The science/policy problem is that quota management not only requires the prediction of how many fish can be caught in the coming year, it tends to bias the information used in these calculations by increasing incentives for discarding and illegal landings. If the amount of fishing you can do is limited, then you catch as many fish as you can in the time you are given. But if the amount of fish you can catch is limited, then you are more likely to throw away a less valuable fish, which is taking up both space and quota, when you later catch a more valuable one. When fishers catch a mix of species at the same time, as is often the case in Europe, quota management is particularly difficult. Effort management can be based on observing trends in catch rather than forecasting future amounts of fish, and incentives for behaviours that bias data are weaker. It is also better for controlling impacts on many stocks in a mixed fishery. However, fishing effort is much harder to measure when trying to distribute rights to fish – indeed, the fish catch in a given time frame constantly increases as technology improves. In the CFP discarding of fish at sea and illegal landings have been a large problem. Gathering data on these discards is very sensitive. Fishers are perfectly willing to discuss the issue privately, but they are very careful about public admissions. This situation has improved with strengthened EU-level oversight and funds for monitoring, but the underlying incentive problem is still very much in place.


        3. Scientific uncertainty in this system is very high. In addition to data gathering problems such as discards and illegal landings, uncertainty is found in the number of fish that die from fishing as opposed to other factors, estimates of fish ages and their weight at particular ages, and the relationship between the number of fish in a stock in one year and the number of fish that will be added in the next year. These factors are all more or less uncertain, depending on the species. Uncertainty also increases as the condition of stocks deteriorates. The population dynamics of stocks at historically low levels are just not well understood.

        4. Scientists trying to communicate these uncertainties surround their numerical tables with extensive qualitative caveats. But DG MARE wants clarity in their advice, usually in the form of a number on a table. They have asked for scientific advice that is not open to interpretation, but which allows flexible options for policy goals. If simultaneous clarity and flexibility is the goal, complex models giving point estimates surrounded by pages of caveats seems a poor way to attain it195. These predictive models and point estimates, however, provide the forecasts needed for quota distributions.
        5. In a large, tightly coupled science/policy system like the CFP, saliency can receive greater priority than either legitimacy or credibility. A scientist working at DG MARE said: “you have to say so many days for a hundred different fleets, you have to come up with a number for the next regulation, you just need that number to come from somewhere, and as long as it is on the best possible technical basis you could just consider it to be engineering rather than science, and it may be perfectly valid without having all these features that you would need to have legitimate and credible science”196. Pressures to “inflate the science boundary” emerge from asking scientists to come produce “findings” about issues that are as much moral and practical as they are scientific.


        6. These problems have led to a generally negative view of science among the fishing public. Questions about the legitimacy of EU fisheries management target science more often than is the case in, for example, Norway197. The fisheries scientists serving the CFP are frustrated and even demoralized. Many feel that what they are being asked to do is not “science”. They look for ways to resist the inflation of the science boundary. In a survey of fisheries scientists around the North Sea, 16% reported that “sometimes” and 60% reported that “often or very often” they felt ”asked to create certainty that is not really there”. Furthermore, 14% reported that “sometimes” and 56% reported that “often or very often” they felt “asked to answer impossible questions”. One scientist was heard pleading to his expert group: “We should stop pretending that we know how many fish there are”198.

        7. When DG MARE sends its proposals to the Council of Ministers the formal role of science suddenly ends. DG MARE is required to consider the best science when making its proposals; the Council is not so required. This leads to an interesting paradox, the initial Commission proposals must be backed by science, but the eventual compromise between the Commission and the Council does not have to be validated by any principle of governance, including scientific justification.
        8. The Council’s decisions have been “moderately responsive to ICES advice” according to Patterson and Résimont’s (2007, p. 716) analysis of 436 records of advice and policy result for fish stocks between 1987 and 2005. This study found that policy moves in the direction of the advice, but not as far as it recommends. This pattern is similar to that found in other science/policy domains199.


    Strengths in the Science/Policy Interface of the CFP

        1. The strengths of the CFP are not seen in its results, but rather in broad efforts at reform that involve a breaking down of barriers between scientists, policy-makers and stakeholders in a search for solutions. Scientists in Europe have become tired of failure. Starting a decade ago, ICES began asking social scientists to contribute to a broad and ongoing analysis of what has gone wrong. Much of what you have read here results from that decision.

        2. ICES scientists have become more directly involved with stakeholders. A minor division has emerged between the ICES scientists who are deeply involved in the advice system and the larger group that is peripheral to it, or rather was peripheral until demands for ecosystem advice began to increase. Many advisory scientists have abandoned the “white coated expert” style and become more comfortable working within an extended peer community200.

        3. Several different kinds of joint activities have emerged. The most popular has been collaborative research with the fishing industry. This has led to improved data collection, as well as new assessments of stocks using both local and scientific knowledge. Another emerging boundary object is participatory modelling201, using scenarios to evaluate management options along with stakeholders. The emphasis here is on using scenarios as a way to examine the meaning of uncertainty.
        4. The Regional Advisory Councils (RAC) stakeholder fora were set up in 2002 as a small step away from top-down management. They do not have budgets for their own scientific advice; currently DG MARE seems to want them to express general opinions about policy questions based on their impressions. CFP reform will require true stakeholder involvement, and the RACs are determined to develop detailed and effective management plans that can have an impact. Some ICES scientists have found ways to support the RACs in these endeavours.


        5. Finally, the CFP is moving away from the emphasis on individual fish stocks as the new EU Marine Directive comes into force. Europe is now committed to an ecosystem approach. Developing the science for this has become an important effort within ICES. The top-down decision-making structures of the CFP, however, have a long way to go before they can begin to address an ecosystem approach.

    Lessons Learned

        1. Lessons that emerge from this science/policy interface case include:

          1. Policy objectives should be set in ways that take into account the science/policy interface. The overreliance on forms of management that solve political problems, but perform poorly from a knowledge development perspective, has been damaging.

          2. It helps to place uncertainty in its various forms at the centre of the discussion rather than as an afterthought expressed as an error term surrounded by caveats. Moving away from reliance on forecasts toward more humble scenario-based modelling, particularly using participatory modelling is one important tool for doing this.
          3. Scientists resist when they do not approve of how their knowledge is being used. Such resistance in this case included a willingness to move away from the role of objective experts who provide facts for bureaucrats to make decisions about to a much more interactive style. This style might be characterized as a sort of “scientific counselling” for stakeholders and policy-makers. Such activities strengthen and enrich the science/policy interface and help make the boundary between science and non-science clearer. They help reduce the inflation of the science boundary. Many ICES scientists from the advisory service, if not as much from other parts of ICES have supported and embodied these changes in style.


          4. The question of in-house versus independent sources of scientific advice is not as central as is often argued. In this case, ICES is formally entirely independent of the Commission, while the legitimacy crisis in fisheries is particularly focussed on science. What seems really important in respect to saliency is the ease of communication between policy-makers and scientists, and, in respect to legitimacy, the perceptions of independence is more important than the legal relationship.



      1. List of Acronyms and Abbreviations

    2010 BIP 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership

    ABGC Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group

    ABS Access and Benefit Sharing

    ACB ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity

    ACIA Arctic Climate Impact Assessment

    AEWA African-Eurasian Waterbirds Agreement

    AHTEG Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (CBD)

    ANDES Intercommunity Agreement for Equitable Benefit-Sharing Derived from Uses of Collective Biocultural Resources

    AoA Assessment of Assessments

    AR4 4th Assessment Report (IPCC)

    ASEAN Association of South-East Asian Nations

    AU/STRC African Union’s Scientific, Technical and Research Commission

    BLG Biodiversity Liaison Group

    BOD Biological Oxygen Demand

    CAWMA Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture

    CBD Convention on Biological Diversity

    CBMP Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program

    CCA Common Country Assessment

    CCAD Central American Commission on Environment and Development

    CEC North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation

    CCD see UNCCD

    CFP Common Fisheries Policy (EU)

    CGIAR Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research

    CGR Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

    CHM Clearing House Mechanism

    CI Conservation International

    CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

    CMS Conservation on Migratory Species

    CONABIO Comision Nacional el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (Mexico)

    COP Conference of the Parties

    CPF Collaborative Partnership on Forests

    CRIC Committee for the Review of Implementation of the Convention (UNCCD)

    CSD Commission on Sustainable Development

    CST Committee on Science and Technology (UNCCD)

    CURA Community-University Research Alliance

    DCDC Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre (UK)

    DEFRA Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (UK)

    DEPI UNEP Division of Environmental Policy Implementation

    DG MARE Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (EU)

    DIVERSITAS An international programme of biodiversity science

    DPSIR Causal framework for describing interaction - Driver, Pressure, State, Impact, Response

    EASE European Association of Science Editors

    EC European Commission

    ECOSOC United Nations Economic and Social Council

    EEA European Environment Agency

    Eionet European environment information and observation network

    EMG Environmental Management Group (UN)

    EPA Environmental Protection Agency

    EPBRS European Platform for Biodiversity Research Strategy

    ERA-Net Networking the European Research Area

    ESPA Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation Programme

    EU European Union

    EUROSTAT Statistical Office of the European Communities

    FAO Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

    FRA Forest Resources Assessment

    GA General Assembly (UN)

    GBIF Global Biodiversity Information Facility

    GBO Global Biodiversity Outlook

    GC Governing Council (UNEP)

    GCOS Global Climate Observing System

    GCSS Special Session of the Governing Council (UNEP)

    GEA Global Energy Assessment

    GEF Global Environmental Facility

    GEO Global Environmental Outlook

    GEO-BON Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network

    GEOSS Global Earth Observation System of Systems

    GESAMP Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection

    GISP Global Invasive Species Programme

    GIWA Global International Waters Assessment

    GLOBIO Global Methodology for Mapping Human Impacts on the Biosphere (a model)

    GoE Group of Experts

    GOOS Global Ocean Observing System

    GRAMED Global and Regional Marine Assessment Database

    GRAME Global Reporting and Assessment of the state of the Marine Environment

    GRID- Arendal Norwegian Centre supporting the UNEP

    GTOS Global Terrestrial Observing System

    IAASTD International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development

    IABIN Inter-American Biodiversity Information Network

    IAEG Inter-Agency Expert Group (UN)

    IAS Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU)

    ICAO International Cooperative Agricultural Organisation

    ICCROM International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property

    ICES International Council for the Exploration of the Sea

    ICOMOS International Council on Monuments and Sites

    ICSU International Council for Science

    IEEP Institute for European Environmental Policy

    IGBP International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme

    IHDP International Human Dimension Programme on Global Environmental Change

    IGO Intergovernmental Organisation

    ILTER International Long-Term Ecological Research

    IMG Issue Management Group (EMG)

    IMO International Maritime Organisation

    IMoSEB International Mechanism of Scientific Expertise on Biodiversity

    InVEST Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (a model)

    IPBES Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

    IPBES Meeting Ad hoc intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder meeting on an IPBES

    IPPC International Plant Protection Convention

    IPR Intellectual Property Rights

    ISSC International Social Science Council

    ISSG Invasive Species Specialist Group (IUCN)

    ITPGRFA International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

    ITIS Integrated Taxonomic Information System

    IUCN International Union for Conservation of Nature

    JIU Joint Inspection Unit (UN)

    JLG Joint Liaison Group

    JNCC Joint Nature Conservation Committee (UK)

    LADA Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands

    LEK Local Ecological Knowledge

    LULUCF Land-use, land-use change and forestry

    MA Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

    MAB Man and the Biosphere (UNESCO)

    MDG Millennium Development Goal

    MEA Multilateral Environmental Agreement

    MOD Ministry of Defense

    MRV Monitoring, Reporting and verification

    NBSAP National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plan

    NCSA National Capacity Self-Assessment

    NFI National Fishery Institute

    NGO Non-Governmental Organization

    OARE Online Access to Research in the Environment

    OASIS Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards

    OECD Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

    PEARL Prototype Environmental Assessment and Reporting Landscape

    PEI Poverty-Environmental Initiative

    PIJAC Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council

    RAC Regional Advisory Council

    RAIPON Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North

    Ramsar Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

    REDD Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries

    SAEON South African Environmental Observation Network

    SBSTA Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (UNFCCC)

    SBSTTA Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice

    SCOPE Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment

    SEBI2010 Streamlining European 2010 Biodiversity Indicators

    SG Secretary-General (UN)

    SGA Sub-Global Assessment

    SKEP Scientific Knowledge for Environmental Protection

    SPAW Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (Cartagena Convention)

    SSC Species Survival Commission (IUCN)

    STAP Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (CGF)

    STECF Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries

    TDWG Taxonomic Database Working Group

    STRP Scientific and Technical Review Panel (Ramsar)

    TEEB The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity

    TNC The Nature Conservancy

    TRAFFIC The wildlife trade monitoring network

    TUMRA Traditional use agreement for sustainable harvesting

    TWAS Third World Academy of Sciences




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