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Developing a cumulative effects framework

New Working Group on Cumulative Effects Assessment in Management request input for case studies.
Published: 3 January 2020

​​​​​​Cumulative effects are the combined effects of human and natural pressures on the environment - both direct and indirect. Marine ecosystems experience environmental impacts from a range of marine-related activities, such as shipping, fishing, offshore oil and gas industries, and deep-sea mining, and terrestrial activities through pollution, waste disposal, and run-off. Cumulative effects are particularly difficult to quantify and manage in the marine environment because of the multitude of impacts and activities interacting.

Cumulative effect assessments (CEAs) are defined as holistic evaluations of the combined effects of human activities and natural processes on the environment, and constitute a specific form of environmental impact assessments. Earlier in 2019, the Workshop on Cumulative Effects Assessment Approaches in Management (WKCEAM) focused on the relevance of CEAs in environmental policies, marine planning, and regulatory processes along with the scientific and data challenges to operationalize CEAs in such processes.

The workshop concluded that a “CEA should inform the integrated ecosystem assessment (IEA) process regarding the potential cumulative effects of a given project while informing Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and marine spatial planning (MSP) initiatives as to the sustainability of development that is being considered including the socio-economic repercussions" and should be, “used in conjunction with an integrated assessment as is currently done for several ICES marine regions (e.g. WGINOSE) to identify if the implemented technical measures have actually succeeded in achieving the policy objectives ".

The creation of an ICES Working Group on Cumulative Effects Assessment in Management that would lead ICES into issues related to the integrated assessment of ecosystem effects of multiple human activities and their pressures was recommended. As the actual implementation of CEAs in marine management is lacking, the new working group would review existing guidance and approaches to develop a CEA framework that could provide practical advice in the development of management measures which would be better aligned with operational management and regulatory processes.

​ICES WGCEAM has now been established and held their first meeting where a cumulative effects assessment framework for management was developed and two case studies (North Sea and the Gulf of St Lawrence) were identified as the proof of concept to be reviewed at the next WGCEAM meeting in 2020. 

The cumulative effects assessment provides a strategic overview of the effects for the combined pressures. Currently, CEA are mostly done on a sector-by-sector basis which is an incorrect way of doing such assessment. WGCEAM chair Roland Cormier notes that, “The case studies will help identify knowledge gaps and science needs in the application of such a framework in a management context", but adds that, “this framework is not intended to guide regulatory management on a sector-by-sector basis but to identify the collective pressures that need to be reduced."

There are many groups that WGCEAM hope to receive input from to build the case studies: Working Group on Bycatch of Protected Species​ (WGBYC), Working Group on Marine Mammal Ecology​ (WGMME), ICES/NAFO/NAMMCO Working Group on Harp and Hooded Seals​ (WGHARP), Joint OSPAR/HELCOM/ICES Working Group on Seabirds​ (JWGBIRD), and ICES/FAO Working Group on Fishing Technology and Fish Behaviour (WGFTFB). Further groups with​ relevant data are asked to contact the chairs of WGCEAM.​

The work carried out by WGCEAM relates to Conservation and management science, one of ICES seven science priorities that supports our Strategic Plan. Discover our seven interrelated scientific priorities and how our network will address them​ in our Science Plan: “Marine ecosystem and sustainability science for the 2020s and beyond”​

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Cumulative effects assessments are cross-sectoral. Taken from Holsman et al., 2017. 

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Developing a cumulative effects framework

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