Up to the late 20th century, fisheries were managed almost exclusively on a single species basis and largely assumed to operate in isolation from the rest of the ecosystem. As pressures on resources and ecosystems increased, the shortcomings of this single-species approach have become more obvious. The need for a quantitive and systematics risk assessment of environmental impact, is widely recognised.
This led to the "Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries" (EAF) management which is now considered to be the preferred manner to manage fisheries resources. It is captured in the World Summit for Sustainable Development's (WSSD) implementation plan which was ratified in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002. One of the main aims of implementing an EAF in the management strategies is to ensure the sustainable utilisation and conservation of the marine resources, yet, this EAF has a holistic approach, taking into consideration the ecological relationships between species, harvested or not, and balancing the diverse needs and values of all who use, enjoy or depend on the ocean now and in the future. The benefits of the EAF system is that it takes the overall health of the marine ecosystem into account, including humans which are an integral part of the ecosystem.
The treaty was ratified by 155 Nations, of which Namibia is one of the signatories. During this summit it was agreed that the WSSD plan of implementation for this multi-disciplinary, ecosystem-based program should be integrated before the end of 2010. The basic principles of this EAF management are firmly entrenched in the primary legal mechanism for the management of our global oceans, the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (Article 61). This legally obligates the 155 signatory States to implementing key EAF principles.
The Ecological Risk Assessmant (ERA) is a simple tool to stimulate and track EAF implementation. This ERA can be described as an accountable multi-stakeholder process (workshop) that in a transparent and participatory manner seeks to identify and define risks and hazards to find broadly supported solutions that balance ecological, socio-economic and governance needs. Very central to this approach is the concept that people do not operate outside of natural systems. In the process to conserve our oceans the sustainability of fishers livelihoods and the broader impact of fishery management decisions on dependent fishing communities, also need to be taken into account.
Today Namibia, Angola and South-Africa have combined their efforts to reach these goals, by establishing the "Benguela Current Commission" (BCC). The BCC is already in possession of many ERA's which amongst others include hake, horse mackerel, sardine, deep-sea red crab and rock lobster. An ERA does not guarantee the elimination of all risks, but does allow for issues to be identified, prioritised and actions taken to address priority issues.
The Namibian government conducts an aerial seal survey covering the coast of Angola, Namibia and South Africa, every third year. Information obtained this way is utilised to determine the following three years total allowable catch (TAC).
Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has currently listed the Namibian "Cape Fur Seal" as "least concern" on the red list of threatened species, it must be stated that there is evidence to suggest that the harvest could be skewing the population structure by targeting primary bull seals, and through the effect of the collapsed pelagic fish stocks, an important component of the diet of cape fur seals. Both of these warrant further attention and research.
Namibia Seal Conservation supports the Wildlife Fund for Nature's (WWF) previous offer to Government to re-evaluate the sustainability of the seal harvest in an open and transparent manner through conducting an Ecological Risk Assessment.
Moderated by Dr Samantha Petersen Senior Manager: Marine Programme, WWF-SA. On behalf of Namibian Seal Conservation.