A landmark development in ICES implementation of ecosystem-based management

ICES publishes framework for ecosystem-informed science and advice.
Published: 15 March 2024

​​​​​​​​​​​​​Ecosystem-based management (EBM) as the primary way of managing human activities affecting marine ecosystems is key to achieving long-term sustainable use of marine resources and ecosystems. ICES is committed to developing the evidence base in support of EBM and providing scientific advice that can inform EBM decision-making. However, progressing EBM is challenging, and progress has been slower than the increasing management needs to address the global and cumulative pressures we face.

​In a move towards enhancing the integration of ecosystem considerations into scientific advice, ICES has developed a Framework for Ecosystem-Informed Science and Advice (FEISA). The publication of Cooperative Research Report 359 ICES Framework for Ecosystem-Informed Science and Advice (FEISA) marks a significant milestone in​ the overall goal of more comprehensive and sustainable management of marine resources.

​​Debbi Pedreschi, Chair of Integrated Ecosystem Assessments Steering Group and Marie-Julie Roux​, Canadian ​member of ICES Advisory Committee have led the work on FEISA. Pedreschi states, "ICES has always been at the forefront of marine science and advice but the range and complexity of advice requests have increased in recent years, expanding beyond the historical focus on fisheries. The time has come to 'walk the walk' in relation to EBM, and the science and advice that supports it. FEISA is designed as a means to guide ICES community and the marine science community more widely, to identify how we can operationalize our wide-ranging science to provide ecosystem-informed advice".

"The Framework for Ecosystem Informed Science and Advice is a landmark development for ICES", states Jörn Schmidt, Chair of ICES Science Committee, "Our Science and Advisory  committees together have created guidance to operationalizing ecosystem-based fisheries management and ecosystem-based management. The Framework supports the development of science and its translation into advice".​​

"What is unique about the framework", adds Colm Lordan, Chair of ICES Advisory Committee​,"is that it can be used with a spectrum of information from quantitative to fully qualitative and can take account of the multiple dimensions of EBM".

What is FEISA?

FEISA represents a paradigm shift in how scientific advice is formulated and communicated. At its core, FEISA combines a system of indicators with risk-based approaches to effectively inform EBM decision-making processes. Through the integration of a wide array of indicators spanning biological, socio-economic, and governance dimensions, a holistic understanding of ecosystem health and resilience can be provided. Risk assessments are applied to prioritize among indicators and assess the performance of alternative management options in meeting specific objectives, including ecosystem-informed scenarios. Risk then serves as the common currency for combining different types of information and effectively and incrementally communicating the demonstrated, anticipated, and/or projected impacts of ecosystem effects and  human activities on marine ecosystems, and conversely, how changing ecosystem and environmental conditions affect or are likely to affect society. 

Risk communication is key to enable decision-makers to navigate complex trade-offs and identify sustainable pathways forward.​  "This is mainly a communication challenge", says Roux, "as most ICES advice requesters are committed to delivering EBM. FEISA proposes risk as the currency to effectively translate and communicate socio-ecological, climate, economic, and ecosystem considerations in advice. Risk can be readily understood by recipients of ICES advice and most importantly, risk is actionable". ​

Doing EBM​

"There are many frameworks or guidelines detailing what EBM should include, but there is little out there suggesting how to do it, how to make it operational", remarks Pedreschi, "FEISA is not a one-stop solution, but it does provide a starting point to be able to leverage and expand more of our marine research into advice, which helps move us towards ecosystem-informed science and advice. FEISA deliberately takes an iterative and incremental approach, so we can take both large and small steps forward as needed, the important thing is that we are moving".

The implementation of FEISA is guided by five operational principles, aimed at fostering consistency, transparency, communication, stakeholder engagement, and advancing socio-ecological science to underpin decision-making processes within ICES community. These principles underscore the importance of incorporating different forms of knowledge, identifying operational objectives, widening the range of indicators used, investigating current and emerging risks from human activity sectors and ecosystem factors through alternative scenarios, and effectively communicating the risks associated with both ecosystem-informed and status quo management decisions.

Operationalizing EBM requires broadening the scope of indicators development to encompass social, economic, and cultural dimensions; and to implement risk assessments and scenario-based approaches to explicitly address ecosystem and climate change considerations and identify risk equivalent management options.

Looking ahead, EBM priorities include enhancing stakeholder engagement, developing tools for translating stakeholder perceptions into measurable indicators, improving and expanding risk assessment processes and risk communication in advice, and advancing socio-ecological science to explore interactions between socio-economic and bioecological objectives. Pedreschi points to the recent developments, such as the new Human Dimensions Steering Group and workshops on stakeholder engagement, that advance the range of topics, knowledge, and disciplines contributing to ICES science, and aid progress t​owards transdisciplinary science outcomes that support EBM and FEISA implementation.

By providing a flexible and adaptable framework for ecosystem-informed science and advice, FEISA aims to drive meaningful progress towards ecosystem-informed decision-making and represents a confident step forward in ICES implementation of EBM. As ICES and stakeholders embrace this transformative approach, the stage is set for greater alignment with societal goals, management objectives, and the needs of future generations.

Read Cooperative Research Reports 359 - ICES Framework for Ecosystem-Informed Science and Advice (FEISA) - available now to view and download from our library. 

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A landmark development in ICES implementation of ecosystem-based management

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