As has been the tradition, ICES began the year by hosting meetings with the requesters of ICES advice (MIRIA) and the Advisory Councils and observers to our advisory process (MIACO). However, reviewing the past year and looking forward to the upcoming one has not been business as usual.
Members of MIRIA include regional fisheries and environmental commissions and competent authorities of ICES member countries. MIACO participants are organizations and individuals which hold observer status at ICES, including representatives from EU Advisory Councils, fishing organizations, and environmental NGOs. Instead of the annual meeting at ICES Headquarters in Copenhagen, this year's took place online.
A review of ICES Advisory services in 2020 presented to the MIRIA and MIACO meetings was accompanied by the mitigation measures and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on advice production and look forward to 2021. In March 2020, in response to the growing COVID-19 restrictions, ICES Advisory Committee (ACOM) implemented the Spring 2020 Approach. This approach was designed to reduce the expert group workload while maintaining the publication of most advice using an abbreviated advice format. The majority of impacted advice has been for fishing opportunities, explained Mark Dickey-Collas, Chair of ACOM, but the overall response to this approach was that recurrent advice is well planned.
In relation to the upcoming year's advice, Dickey-Collas commented to all that for stocks, especially those in, or partially in EU and UK waters, data quality from 2020 will have been affected. “Each working group has guidance but is also exploring methods to assess stocks and forecast stock dynamics and that while advice sheets for fishing opportunities will adjust back to a more familiar format, they will be more concise than the style of the 2019 advice".
Guide to ICES advice and 10 guiding principles MIRIA allows requesters the opportunity to further their awareness of how the advisory process works and explore common challenges.
The recently published Guide to ICES advice and 10 guiding principles were presented with most considering the principles to be clear and, in most cases, already applied in practice, but that it was important to have them in writing.
Commenting on individual principles, Principle 2 (iterative dialogue to clarify the requester's needs and expectations during request formulation) was noted as being particularly pertinent and necessary. In addition, Laurent Markovic, European Commission's Directorate-General for Environment (DGENV) also welcomed principles 3 (clarifying objectives and risks) and 8 (creating clear and consistent advice), commenting that they ensure optimal advice quality and fitness for purpose.
Other participants cautioned that having too strict rules on principles and procedures could sometimes prevent people from thinking outside the box. Speaking on Principle 7 (Peer review), MIACO participants worried that it added rigidity to a very strict system of review and along with the benchmark process, it becomes a very slow process to implement even minor changes, that in some cases are clearly improvements. Rasmus Hedeholm, Sustainable Fisheries Greenland , comments, "The expert groups are by definition “experts", so ideas for improvements are often discussed during meetings and in some cases these improvements can, and should be, implemented. Principle 7 does not make room for such changes".
In response, Dickey-Collas comments that, “The obligation to improve quality control of
processes means that expert groups and the advisory system need to work
together to ensure that the advice is always based on the best available
Discussions on the opportunities for ICES Ecosystem and Fisheries overviews focused on the operationalization of the overviews. The European Commission's Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) commented that “Overviews are useful instruments for the mapping of fisheries and ecosystems in the various ecoregions", while making a number of points to support the further development of these tools, mainly concerning connection with advice on fishing opportunities.
ICES meetings are open to observers from governmental, intergovernmental, and non-governmental organizations and individuals, upon approval of an application for observer status. Currently there are over 40 institutions with observer status.
Find out more about our observer policy.
Image: IMR, Norway.