UP UNTIL the late 20th century, fisheries were managed almost exclusively on a single species basis and largely assumed to operate in isolation from the rest of the ecosystem. As pressures on resources and ecosystems increased, the shortcomings of this single-species approach have become more obvious. For a long period of time various role players stressed that any modern society needs a quantitative and systematic way to estimate and compare the impacts of environmental risks that affect large geographic areas.
The eventual result hereof was the birth of the “Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries” (EAF) management which is now considered to be the globally preferred manner in which to manage fisheries resources and enshrined in the World Summit for Sustainable Development’s (WSSD) implementation plan which was ratified in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002. One of the main aims of implementing an EAF in the management strategies is to ensure the sustainable utilization and conservation of the marine resources, yet, this EAF has a holistic approach considering ecological relationships between species, harvested or not, and balancing the diverse needs and values of all who use, enjoy or depend on the ocean now and in the future. The benefits of the EAF managing is that it takes the overall health of the marine ecosystem into account, including humans which are an integral part of the ecosystem.
The treaty was, in the meantime, ratified by 155 Nations, of which Namibia is one of the signatories. During this summit it was agreed that the WSSD plan of implementation for this multi-disciplinary, ecosystem-based program should be integrated before the end of 2010. The basic principles of this EAF management are firmly entrenched in the primary legal mechanism for the management of our global oceans, the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (Article 61). This legally obligates the 155 signatory States to implementing key EAF principles.
The Ecological Risk Assessmant (ERA), is a simple tool to stimulate and track EAF implementation. This ERA can be described as an accountable multi-stakeholder process (workshop) that in a transparent and participatory manner seeks to identify and define risks/hazards (the source thereof, the consequences, and the likelihood that it may occur), and find broadly supported solutions that balance ecological, socio-economic and governance needs. Very central to this approach is the concept that people do not operate outside of natural systems. In the process to conserve our oceans the sustainability of fishers livelihoods and the broader impact of fishery management decisions on dependent fishing communities, also need to be taken into account.
Today Namibia, Angola and South Africa have combined their efforts to reach these goals, by the establishing of the “Benguela Current Commission” (BCC). The BCC is already in possession of many ERA’s which amongst others include hake, horse mackerel, sardine, deep-sea red crab and rock lobster. An ERA does not guarantee the elimination of all risks, but does allow for issues to be identified, prioritised and actions taken to address priority issues. It is however, important that ERA’s are reviewed on a regular basis to ensure on-going improvements. Thus these workshops are followed up on a frequent basis with a review workshop to determine whether progress are made, and to update management aims, needs, and strategies.
Although the structures for EAF implementation and the commitment by stakeholders are now in place, and although much has been achieved, there is a need to increase the pace in order to completely realize the WSSD goals. Namibia has played an active role in the development of implementation strategies globally and has begun the implementation phase locally by conducting Ecological Risk Assessments for most of its marine resources.
The Namibian government is conducting an aerial seal survey covering the coast of Angola, Namibia and South Africa, every third year. Information obtained this way is utilized to determine the following three years total allowable catch (TAC). The Namibian government has not yet conducted an ERA for the seal harvest sector, thereby providing little transparent information on the ecological, socio-economic or governance risks facing seals or the sector.
NSC is also of the opinion that if there existed proper information in the past, regarding the ecological risks involved, the Namibian government might have been in a better position to have possibly prevented previous mass seal die-off’s, or the collapsed of fisheries resources such as sardines.
Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has currently listed the Namibian “Cape Fur Seal” as “least concern” on the red list of threatened species, it must be mentioned that there exist some evidence to suggest that the harvest could be skewing the population structure by targeting primarily bull seals, and through the effect of the collapsed pelagic fish stocks, an important component of the diet of cape fur seals. Both of these warrant further attention and research.
NSC believes that despite Namibia’s current conservation successes regarding its seals, Namibia will become the laughing stock of the international community in the event that something goes wrong with our seals, especially in circumstances where a professional tool such as the ERAs exists to help mitigate the risk. Therefore, NSC supports the Wildlife Fund for Nature’s (WWF) previous offer to Government to re-evaluate the sustainability of the seal harvest in an open and transparent manner through conducting an Ecological Risk Assessment.
• (Edited by Dr Samantha Petersen, Senior Manager: Marine Programme, WWF-SA. On behalf of Namibian Seal Conservation)