Trade-offs in ecosystem-based fisheries management in the North Sea aimed at achieving Biodiversity Strategy targets

Linkage framework describing the social-ecological system for the Case Study.  Source: Gerjan Piet, WMR
Area characterisation: 

The case study area is determined as the “Greater North Sea” according to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) the main marine policy framework. This area is identical to the ICES ecoregion and based on the Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) concept.

The North Sea is one of the busiest seas with many (often growing or newly emerging) sectors laying a claim to a limited amount of space. The need for Integrated Assessments (IA), Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and Ecosystem-based Management (EBM) is therefore rapidly increasing and an adequate scientific knowledge base is becoming a key requirement for more informed decision-making.


The AQUACROSSCase Study aims to improve the knowledge base available to stakeholders to enable a more informed decision-making process toward the achievement of the Biodiversity Strategy targets, including the provisioning of ecosystem services. This includes several existing European marine policy frameworks: Habitats and Birds Directives, MSFD, CFP & IMP.


Within the case study it is planned to apply several methodologies to assess the performance of Ecosystem Based Management strategies. A risk assessment approach, i.e. cumulative effects assessment (CEA), will allow an integrated assessment of all the relevant impact chains that determine the socio-ecological system. While at present only the impact of the human activities and their pressures on the state of the ecosystem (represented by the various components) can be assessed, the aim is to expand this approach such that it also includes the supply side of the ecosystem services with various more detailed and fully quantitative methods that cover only a subset of the linkage framework. For example we adopt and further develop an approach that calculates the impact of fishing through physical disturbance on the seabed habitats and another that calculates the impact of fishing through biological extraction on the state of the fish community.

Potential impacts/benefits: 

The case study focuses on fisheries because it is a significant threat to biodiversity and the emerging activity of renewable energy. Both activities also put a large claim on the limited amount of space available for conservation purposes, i.e. through marine protected areas, thereby compromising the achievement of the Biodiversity Strategy targets and related policy objectives.

Transferability of the result: 

This project is a Case Study under the Horizon 2020 project AQUACROSS, which builds on work undertaken in the previous pillars to develop concepts, practices and tools for better implementation of Ecosystem Based Management. This includes identifying and understanding the linkages between aquatic ecosystems and human well-being and identifying innovative management responses for aquatic ecosystems.

Lessons learned: 

As part of the Horizon 2020 AQUACROSS project, this Case Study seeks to advance the application of Ecosystem Based Management for aquatic ecosystems. AQUACROSS aims to develop and test an assessment framework, which considers the full array of interactions, including human activities, within aquatic ecosystems.