The latest round of Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) descriptor review workshops has concluded at ICES.
ICES began this review process in 2014 by hosting open workshops and delivering technical guidance to the European Commission for four MSFD descriptors: Descriptor 3, Descriptor 4, Descriptor 6, and Descriptor 11 (energy, with underwater noise).
The recent workshops continue the review process by responding to further questions that have arisen (for example from national governments and NGOs) and clarifying the science further.
ICES will publish the resulting advice, along with all three workshops reports, on 20 March 2015.
Below, three workshop participants share their experience of the review process:
Simon Greenstreet, Marine Scotland, has been involved with Descriptor 4 (D4) since the initial ICES Workshop to develop recommendations for potentially useful Food Web Indicators (WKFooWI) in early 2014 and is also science coordinator at Marine Scotland for two biodiveristy indicators.
"WKFooWI led to a greater understanding of how to address foodweb issues at the interface between scientific research and the management of human activity. I see the two ensuing D4 workshops as the ICES advisory process getting to grips with that science output and putting it into a package that is useful to policy-makers, so that it can be used to provide advice for the implementation of the MSFD."
Greenstreet regards the area of foodwebs as possibly being the most difficult scientifically to bring into the MSFD programme and points out that the latest review workshop is still identifying quite significant problems.
Implementing D4 will be slightly different to other biodiversity indicators, such as D1 and D6 where a mixture of pressure and state indicators mean that specific targets can be set. Greenstreet explains, "For example, a large fish indicator (LFI) of 0.3 is a specific target for a numeric indicator which means an assessment can be based on the LFI. Is it at 0.3? If so, OK. If not, something needs to be done."
The fundamental problem facing D4 is the lack of understanding of what the natural foodweb really looks like as it constantly changes, due to human activity, environmental changes, and natural ecosystem changes. For example, in the North Sea, the biomass of two trophic guild indicators, the demersal benthic guild and the demersal piscivores, have changed over time. One has shown a clear decline, the other a general oscillation but both now have an increasing biomass that is either above or approaching the highest recorded in this time-series.
Greenstreet stresses that there is no basis for determining whether these indicators are showing something about good environmental status (GES) or simply showing a trend, "This could be moving towards a good situation, but equally, because we've never seen it before, it could be hurtling towards something that's really bad news. And I think that's a real problem. We don't have a target for either of those guild indicators, and while they can be used as surveillance, we can't use them to support an assessment."
"Just because surveillance indicators move into an unseen zone, it should not necessarily trigger a management action", he adds, "but it should initiate research to answer the question: is this good environmental status? "
While ICES is coordinating the review workshops for D3, D4 and D6, JRC is coordinator of the same process for all remaining descriptors. JRCs presence is important to ensure some comparability at the end of the process.
As a vice-chair, Patrício sees her role as a facilitator but also to ensure that policy and implementation related questions take Member States point of view into consideration.
"I think that sometimes these workshops are a little bit biased towards northern Europe as they don't always have balanced participation from all Member States, especially from the Mediterranean and Black seas." Patrício tries to bring the context of these member states when possible, in order to take into account that regional sea realities are very different.
Explaining the difference in approach taken by JRC and ICES, Patrício points out that both have their advantages. "At JRC, the approach is not one of open forum expert review workshops. We send the first draft of the Manuals to be reviewed and commented on by national experts who have been nominated by their member states. While, at ICES, participants can debate the topic, in the JRC process, it's more a one-to-one relationship. However, what is decided is more official."
"I think that we are progressing well. D4 is a process with each of the three workshops playing a different role but together we are following a path that is leading us to what we want to achieve and participants that have been in all three are in line with this."
The Scottish Fisherman's Federation (SFF) have been in liaison with Defra since the beginning of the MSFD process and understand the importance of participating in these review workshops. Representing the industry, Kenneth Coull, states that the primary areas of interest and input for his organisation were Descriptor 3 (D3) and Descriptor 6 (D6) but he also participated in Descriptor 4 (D4).
Coull states that SFF are reasonably content with the D3 process. Initially, they felt there were weaknesses with some proposals in relation to population, age, and size which weren't clarified in the first workshop.
"That wasn't quite clear after the first workshop but we've moved on a stage now and it's good to see that the ICES process will be the means of delivering D3 and that a roadmap has been identified to address the concerns that were expressed not only in the previous meeting but also by the member states and DG Environment."
Coull also feels that ICES has done well to structure the second stages of the D6 and D4 workshops in a way that addresses the issues that had come up since the first round and that the right participants were present, "I was pleased to be working with a dedicated group of people that knew their subject very well."
ICES will publish the resulting advice, along with all three workshops reports on 20 March 2015.