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Sustainable Fisheries

Mediterranean fisheries are extremely diverse, targeting a great number of species, and have an extensive scope of fishing gear and methods, some of them unique.


The Mediterranean Sea is one of the areas of highest biodiversity in the world, but at the same time it demonstrates poor productivity. Catches are highly multi-specific. Fishing in the Mediterranean is a major economic activity in terms of jobs, revenues and food supply. Fishing products are an important component of the Mediterranean diet, and fishing itself has been one of the pillars of Mediterranean civilization and culture.

Industrial fisheries have been strongly developed for half a century, but have never reached the same importance as in the oceans. Fishing in the Mediterranean is an artisan sector in which a large number of small boats are used involving a great number of fishers.

The increase in demand, in addition to the increase in population and the development of markets, has led to a generalized trend of over-fishing in the region. In addition to over-fishing, the industry faces other problems, such as poor knowledge regarding the biology of juvenile stages and fish migration patterns, insufficient quality of Mediterranean fish statistics, and a lack of integration between fishery biologists and fishery managers.

Aquaculture is a possible alternative way of producing fish in the region, though it is far from reaching its objectives and still lags behind expectations. At the same time, the issue must be raised on how to integrate this activity with others, such as tourism, and reduce its impacts on the environment.


The Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries

The ecosystem approach (EA) is one of the most important recently-emerging concepts with regards to the comprehensive management of human activities, which is aiming for the sustainable use of marine resources.

The purpose of an ecosystem approach is to plan, develop and manage human activities at sea, such as fisheries and aquaculture, in a way that addresses the multiple needs and desires of societies, without jeopardizing the options for future generations to benefit from the full range of goods and services provided by marine ecosystems.

According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the definition of the EA is: a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. Application of the ecosystem approach will help to reach a balance of the three objectives of the Convention. It is based on the application of appropriate scientific methodologies focused on levels of biological organization which encompass the essential processes, functions and interactions among organisms and their environment. It recognizes that humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of ecosystems.

The FAO also provides a definition applied to fisheries: an approach that strives to balance diverse societal objective, by taking into account the knowledge and uncertainties about biotic, abiotic and human components of ecosystems and their interactions and applying an integrated approach to fisheries within ecologically meaningful boundaries. (FAO Fisheries Department. The ecosystem approach to fisheries, FAO Technical Guidelines for responsible fisheries, No.4, suppl.2. Rome, FAO. 2003)

Due to the particular characteristics of fisheries and aquaculture in the Mediterranean, the EA needs to be adapted and methods have to be developed for it to be implemented. IUCN-Med aims to identify the possibilities in the region, so as to apply the concept of an ecosystem approach to fisheries and aquaculture. For this purpose, the Centre is using the basic method developed by the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management.

To develop these areas of work, IUCN-Med is working in close partnership with the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean. A Memorandum of Understanding between IUCN-Med and GFCM was signed in January 2008, providing the basis for developing collaboration and projects on common areas of interest.

IUCN-Med is also working closely with the private sector. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP) in 2004, and renewed in 2008; another Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2008 with CEPESCA, the Spanish Confederation of Fisheries Associations.


For further information, please contact François Simard