Biological diversity, its conservation and sustainable use, has been on the global stage since at least 1992 when the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was established at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that year. In 2010, during the International Year of Biodiversity, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets were established as part of the CBD's Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020.
Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 stated that “By 2020, at least … 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECM), and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes".
“OECMs are an institutional innovation", states Serge Garcia, Fisheries Expert Group of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management (IUCN-CEM-FEG), “their aim is to identify and reinforce, when possible, the biodiversity conservation already, or potentially, provided by resource use sectors as primary or secondary objectives and even often unintentionally. For the fishery sector, OECMs are both a challenge and a great opportunity. It is a challenge because the formal identification of an OECM has implications in terms of monitoring, enforcement, and recurrent assessment of performance. It is an opportunity to obtain recognition of the fact that as a sustainable use of aquatic biodiversity, well managed fisheries not only maintain and build harvested stocks but also contribute to biodiversity conservation."
The term OECM was undefined until the CBD Decision 14/8 in 2018. As countries worldwide are now reporting on their progress regarding the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, there is a need to ensure clear and workable guidance on how to translate the Decision into actions by jurisdictions that manage ocean pressures, particularly fisheries, and to allow Parties and other authorities to then apply that guidance in their reporting to CBD.
The recent ICES/IUCN-CEM FEG Workshop on Testing OECM Practices and Strategies (WKTOPS), chaired by Ellen Kenchington, Bedford Institute of Oceanography ,Canada and Jake Rice, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada addressed this need and investigated how to evaluate areas with spatial fisheries measures in place as OECM, specifically the extent to which area-based fisheries management measures (ABFM) may contribute significantly enough to biodiversity conservation to be identified as OECM.
Participants applied the OECM criteria from the guidance document developed by Serge Garcia and IUCN colleagues, OECMs in marine capture fisheries: Systematic approach to identification, use and performance assessment to chosen examples of spatial measures that were managed through ABFM. Six case studies from the North Atlantic were evaluated, differing in size, biodiversity features, types of measures in place, jurisdictional authority, and expected biodiversity benefits: Northwestern North Sea Sandeel Fishery Closure; Lophelia Coral Conservation Area; NAFO Sponge Closures; NEAFC Haddock Box; NAFO Seamount (Corner Rise) Closure; and Lyme Bay Mussel Farm.
“WKTOPS was the first meeting in which the early guidance developed by IUCN-CEM-FEG in collaboration with the FAO 'met the ground' with the view to testing the part of the guidance dealing with the initial identification process", explains workshop co-chair Jake Rice, “The excellent information compilation undertaken before the meeting for all case studies, allowed a smooth development of the process through which the experts tried to evaluated the areas' characteristics relative to the CBD Criteria, using the guidance contained in the CBD Decision 14/8 and in the Garcia et al. document".
WKTOPS consisted mainly of biologists and ecologists but other participants brought a range of highly relevant expertise and included agency officers, government experts, academic experts and ENGOs with experience in science, management, and policy. The group agreed that the diversity of experts, and particularly the mix of science (and other knowledge systems) experts, managers, and policy-makers was extremely valuable, and should be encouraged in any OECM evaluation process.
Initial difficulties related to the drafting of the criteria and the ambiguities or uncertainties they contained. Some examples of this included the definition of an marine protected area (MPA), the types and amount of evidence required on biodiversity benefits, the degree to which each criteria was to be met, the possible ranking of criteria, the dimensions and ways to measure OECMs' effectiveness, and the possible interpretations of "long-term benefits" and of "sustained management" in terms of acceptable timeframe.
Resulting discussions identified emerging issues, interpretation issues with the criteria, and areas where the Guidance Document either were extremely helpful or where there were gaps that would be helpful to fill.
From the workshop, participants stressed: (i) the need to conduct the initial and recurrent assessments both inside and around the OECM because of spill-over effects and ecological connectivity; (ii) the challenge in establishing unequivocal cause-effect relationships between factors and outcomes, e.g. in determining "effectiveness"; (iii) the need for a consistent treatment of "equity" issues, particularly in coastal densely populated areas; (iv) the relatively high costs if recurrent performance monitoring is mandatory; (v) the ongoing challenge posed by climate change and the need to think in terms of "dynamic" OECMs for adaptive management; (vi) the need to use OECMs not only for protection of biodiversity but also as much as possible for its recovery; and the need for patchy VMEs to consider the possibility to either combine them as a complex OECM or as a network of OECMs.
In the end, however, the experts found that with the available information and guidance, all selected case studies were found to meet the Criteria well enough to warrant consideration as potential OECMs should the appropriate jurisdiction(s) choose to move in that direction. The experts also suggested that the fishery-specific guidance developed by FEG could be expanded to provide more fishery-specific commentaries on the criteria and more details on the best ways to aggregate the evaluations of each criterion into a final evaluation and recommendation on whether the potential OECM could be considered as a bona fide OECM, upgraded to eventually reach that status, or considered inadequate, irrespective of its usefulness as a fishery management measure.
In case of OECMs straddling multiple jurisdictions, the experts stressed the importance of effective collaborations for the assessments and the management. They noted that while the CBD Guidance was silent on the use of OECMs in the high seas, States party to the RFMOs conventions could jointly decide to introduce OECMs in their management instruments to further mainstreaming of biodiversity and OECMs in the fishery sector.
Ellen Kenchington noted that ICES, with its deep roots in fisheries science was an excellent testing ground for
the guidance developed by IUCN-CEM-FEG. “The
mix of WKTOPS participants facilitated discussion on all of the CBD OECM
Criteria and Sub-Criteria, including the Criterion on Cultural, spiritual, socioeconomic and other locally relevant values”
explained Kenchington. “The workshop report will also be very valuable to ICES
expert groups who may not have been aware of the need to evaluate biodiversity
benefits in areas closed to support fisheries, if such areas are to be included
in national reporting”, she said, adding that the report may prompt a review
of available data within ICES to support OECM evaluations going forward.
The report from ICES/IUCN-CEM FEG Workshop on Testing OECM Practices and Strategies (WKTOPS) is now available to download from ICES library.