Home > Advice > 2007

Advices 2007

2007/04 Natural fishing in the Wadden Sea

2007/04 Natural fishing in the Wadden Sea

Why this advice?
The Wadden Sea key planning decision (Third Wadden Sea Memorandum) and the Policy Decision on Shellfish Fishery 2005-2020 (Ruimte voor een zilte oogst) ['Space for a Briny Harvest'] sets out the government policy on fishery in Wadden Sea.  The purpose of the policy is to bring about an ecological and economic development in the Dutch fishing industry aimed at bringing about sustainable activity in the Wadden Region. It also addresses the extent to which sustainable and economically viable fishing in the Wadden Sea is feasible within the set terms and within the parameters laid down in the policy. For that reason the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality has asked the Wadden Sea Council to advise on whether sustainable fishery in the Wadden Sea - in the perspective of the policy being pursued - can be achieved in good time and which improvements will have to be made in that regard.

What does it cover?
The Wadden Sea is a location for various fishery activities, each of which in their own way has (potential) effects on the region's natural values. A distinction is made between:
-  seabed disturbance (seed mussel fishery, manual cockle fishery and shrimp fishery)
- effects on the food chain (the removal of food for shellfish-eating birds that forage in the region)
- effects on the ecosystem (because shellfish temporarily hold onto floating matter)
- by-catches and discards
- and disruption.
Finally, reference is made to the possible impact of not fishing in the region: the (further) spread of the Japanese oyster in the Wadden Sea, which will have a negative (forcing out other species, but does not serve as food for birds) and a positive (formation of new banks) impact.

What is the current government policy?
The policy previously focused mainly on the protection of fish stocks. Since the nineteen-eighties more and more parameters have been set on the basis of other policy areas (mainly nature policy). The Structure Document on marine and Inshore Fisheries (1992), which covers all forms of shellfish fishing, sets out to achieve spatial interweaving of the fishery and nature functions. In the most extreme case (if the desired effect is not achieved through other measures) areas can be closed off (as was done for the eastern Wadden Sea). The policy document holds the national government responsible for the policy framework and the sector for implementation. The required food reserve for birds and the fishing quota are set by carrying out annual stock inspections. The fishers then draw up fishing plans. Since 1998 those plans have been tested annually against the Dutch Nature Conservation Act. Since recently the plans have also been assessed in the light of the "Maintenance Objectives" as a result of the Wadden Sea being designated as a Natura 2000 area.

The policy decisions 'Ruimte voor een zilte oogst' for shellfish fishery in the coastal waters and Northern Sea Coastal Zone and 'Vast en Zeker' ('Without a Doubt') for fishing with fixed fishing gear (such as traps and upright nets) in the Wadden Sea and the Zeeuw coastal waters were adopted in 2004. The policy set out in this documents is aimed at improving the sustainability of both sectors. Mechanical cockle fishing was discontinued in response to the first policy document, and that also brought the food reserve policy to an end. The mussel sector is expected to meet the sustainability targets by 2020, possibly by means of seed mussel collection systems (MZIs) and the optimisation of cultivation plots. The document makes reference to the possibility of harvesting Japanese oysters manually. Finally, mainly as a result of the agreements made with Germany and Denmark, what are known as 'ecoplots' have been set up with which  a clearer image can be gained of the effects of shrimp fishing. The policy is reflected in the Third Wadden Sea Memorandum. Additionally, most forms of fishing are now forbidden in the Wadden shallows.

What is the government doing?
As well as formulating policy the government initiates studies into the ecological effects of fishing activities, sets firm parameters and promotes innovations (through fish innovation platforms, for instance) aimed at sustainability. By way of example, a study is currently being conducted in the mussel sector into the optimisation of cultivation plots and experiments with MZIs, and research is being carried out into the natural values of sublittoral mussel banks.

A specific ecoplot has been set up for shrimp fishery. This ecoplot will (in due course) make it possible to mutually compare fished and unfished parts of the Wadden Sea in terms of the impact of shrimp fishing on the seabed and benthic life.  Also, more information is needed about by-catches, the survival of by-catches in the processing equipment and the survival of discards after being returned to the sea. This study is also important for the certification under the terms of the Marine Stewardship Counsil (MSC) of shrimp fishery and is expected to be integrated in the certification procedure.
For the fixed-gear-fishery, research is being performed into the by-catches in fishery using traps and upright nets.

The results of this study will eventually be the determining factor as to whether fishing using upright nets on the tidal flats can continue.
Finally, a pilot project on the subject of integrated fishery is due to commence in 2008. The experiment with manually fishing for Japanese oysters has not yet begun.

What is the sector itself doing?
Groups of entrepreneurs in the Wadden Sea fishery sector and social organisations have in recent years launched various initiatives aimed at securing a sustainable future and/or more social and economic security for the branch of industry.
United in the ODUS Foundation, the Dutch shellfish sector presented its vision in 2004 in the policy documents 'Uit de Schulp' ('out of the shell' and 'Het roer moet om' ('time to change course'). The primary objective of the vision is to achieve ecologically responsible shellfish fishery with broad social acceptance. For the mussel fishing sector, the ODUS vision addresses:
- seed mussel collection systems (MZIs)
- hatcheries/nurseries
- plot optimisation and optimising the use of seed mussels
- fishery plans.
Developing alternative sources for seed mussels makes the sector less dependent on natural conditions and could serve to reduce the pressure on the Wadden ecosystem.
Working in partnership with the North Sea Foundation and the Wadden Sea Council, the shrimp fishery sector has collectively decided to enter the MSC certification procedure. The first assessment results are expected at the end of 2008. The most important points of attention are the spread of fishery, fish by-catches and possible effects of the shrimp trawling on seabed fauna and flora.
In partnership with the regional product hallmark Waddengoud a group of Wadden Sea fishers is placing fish on the market with a sustainability label.  The main product of this initiative up to now is the smoked grey mullet sold in shops for biological products and at markets for farmhouse products.

Council: More action is needed...
The Council does not believe that the current fishery policy and how it is being implemented will lead to the policy objectives being met in 2020. Its arguments are as follows:
- innovations aimed at sustainability arise from acute and current issues; there is no set final objective for the innovations as a whole.
- the sustainability projects concentrate only on one or a few parts of the overall operation rather than all parts that have to be adapted to meet the policy objective;
- a number of fishery sectors - which have not yet been established as being sustainable - are not addressing the sustainability issue at all.
These arguments underline the fact that the fishery policy lacks a guiding definition of sustainable fishery.
Moreover, the policy lacks a general vision of the measures needed for that purpose.

From reactive to proactive
The Council concludes in its advice that the existing policy must be supplemented with a concrete future perspective (with a target image in which the final objectives of the policy are formulated). A future perspective is needed to improve the management of the innovation process. The Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Safety needs to take the initiative for the development of a future perspective that in all cases:
- presents options for socially-economically sustainable fishery activities within a safe usage area (with opportunities for a 'Rijke Zee', in particular the conservation-, restoration and developmentobjectives for the Wadden Sea;
- sets the direction for innovations needed to achieve ecologically sustainable fishery activities;
- contains instruments for close integration with the regional, economic and social functions;
- encourages the fishery sector to work on achieving greater social acceptance and new forms of entrepreneurship.
An integrated researchplan, including long-term experiments and monitoring, must be part of this future perspective.
In chapter 4 of its advice the Council gives an onset for the future perspective that meets the criteria set out above.

A future perspective calls for a coordinated and structured change process
Achieving an economically and ecologically sustainable Wadden fishery sector will call for drastic changes in several policy areas. That can only be achieved through a coordinated and structured transition process. The national, regional and local authorities and the principal lobby groups must be involved in the implementation of the transition process.

The Council makes a number of concrete recommendations in its advice, which must be covered in the transition process.

First of all the Council recommends placing Wadden Sea fishery under the regional policy.  The Council believes that that is the best way to facilitate good integration and coordination within the integral Wadden Sea Policy.

The Council also recommends the creation of fishery boundaries for the Wadden Sea fishery sector (preferably in a trilateral context) with a view to the management and development of the Wadden ecosystem. That implies that both the ecologically and the economically sustainable nature of the Wadden Sea fishery sector will to a significant extent have to be based on measures argued from the perspective of the Nature Conservation Act and, more specifically, on the maintenance, restoration and development objectives for the Wadden Sea.

The Council also takes the view that the current system of marketable licences and fishing rights with limited availability is frustrating the ability to introduce more flexibility. For that reason research will have to be conducted into other ways of managing and issuing licences and fishing rights. The research will at least have to cover the legal and financial implications of buying up and reissuing (parts of) licences and fishing rights; the latter being necessary to offer prospects for low-scale mixed coastal fishery in the Wadden Sea.

The Council also advocates the adoption of a programme-based approach to innovative entrepreneurship in the fishery sectors operating in the Wadden Sea.

Download the summary of this advice (pdf, 26 K).

2007/03 Nature bounderies

2007/03 Nature bounderies

Optimal interplay between ecology and economy still our job
In its report, 'Ruimte voor de Wadden' (Room for the Wadden Sea Area), the Meijer Commission proposes the idea of introducing Nature Boundaries for the Wadden Sea area. The commission motivates the importance of that interest with the argument that nature boundaries can provide a clear answer with respect to questions as to which activities are and which are not permissible in the Wadden Sea area. Meijer proposes that, in the future, all activities in the Wadden Sea area be described and executed in the following order: determining nature boundaries, monitoring, executing and adapting the activity.
The Cabinet promised that it would map out the advantages and disadvantages of nature boundaries halfway through the period of the current Planologische Kernbeslissing (Key Planning Decision) on the Wadden Sea (PKB). The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (Ministerie LNV) has asked the Wadden Sea Council (Raad voor de Wadden) to compile a recommendation on the implementation and use of nature boundaries in the Wadden Sea area.

Seeking clear boundaries remains a fine balancing act
It is important to state in advance that nature boundaries are boundaries that are determined by nature itself, and not boundaries that are set for nature. Partly for that reason, the creation of hard and fast nature boundaries is seen as a difficult issue to resolve. In effect, the real issue is finding the optimal balance.
Finding the upper and lower boundaries of permissible human activities in the Wadden Sea area takes central stage in the approach that has been adopted by the Wadden Sea Council.

The Wadden Sea Council has investigated several possible approaches to the determination of nature boundaries: the legal aspects, the social framework, nature boundaries seen from an ecological perspective and from an economic perspective, and, finally, also the trilateral context. The Wadden Sea Council also explored the question of the knowledge and model development that would be needed to be able to determine nature boundaries in the Wadden Sea area and how it would be possible to monitor the elaboration and development of such boundaries. The exploration of all the aforementioned aspects was elaborated in the recommendation paper, 'Nature boundaries for daily use'.

In dialogue with business
In the elaboration of the recommendation, the Wadden Sea Council assumes that the introduction of nature boundaries would be meaningful if the interest groups in the Wadden Sea area could see the (potential) added value of those boundaries. For that reason, the so-called 'utilized space' concept, i.e. the field within which both ecological and economical interests need to play a role, formed a central point on the agenda for the exchange of thoughts with the business community. In the context of such a 'utilized space', it is critical to consider what constitutes a nature boundary that would do justice to both the economy and the ecology.
Two clear lines are identifiable in the dialogue: In the first place, the business community is asking for clear and unambiguous legislation for the Wadden Sea area that would enhance the security and continuity of local business. The local community considers the current permit system too selective and subjective. In the second place, there is the ecological perspective, which is characterized by the search for a cautious, yet safe character for dealing with vulnerable natural values, both in the 'utilized space' and in the Wadden Sea area as a whole.

Nature boundaries have a provisional character
Economy and ecology do not need to collide: It is possible to avoid conflict by accepting, from both perspectives, that there is always a certain level of insecurity attached to the notion of nature boundaries. The insecurity is caused by insufficient knowledge and the dynamics of nature and society. Nature boundaries are determined by the most optimal choices: they express various different interests. In the view of the Wadden Sea Council, the prevailing insecurity about the exact delineation of the 'utilized space' should not, in principle, be an obstacle to the concrete formulation of the boundaries. However, nature boundaries do have a provisional character: It must be possible to review them periodically based on new insights or based on changing circumstances. It is however necessary to be able to formulate a system of guidelines with solid reasons based on which nature boundaries can be adjusted.

Legal foundation and framework for nature boundaries
A first step towards the creation of such guidelines consists of the formulation of a legal foundation for the nature boundaries.
European directives, and therefore the Nature Protection Act (Naturebeschermingswet), will, at all times, form the legal and judicial framework for a system of nature boundaries. The Wadden Sea Council sees a number of options for fitting a system of nature boundaries into the existing frameworks without the need for adding new rules to the existing body of rules and regulations. By doing so, it will be possible to take the next step towards the formulation and establishment of the actual nature boundaries.

Social debate on a nature boundary system
Popular attitudes to the Wadden Sea are in a state of flux: They are moving from utility, modernization and quantity towards experience, authenticity and quality. In short: from production space to consumer space. Interested parties, users, nature conservationists and ecologists rarely share the same vision of the earth and the role of nature and landscape. This is often translated into differing attitudes with regard to what should serve as a nature boundary.
The social component may therefore not be absent from a system of nature boundaries. The subjects that need to be dealt with include the view of nature that forms the foundation of the formation of the nature boundaries, the translation of the conservation objectives in the management plan, questions concerning the usefulness and need for the various activities in the Wadden Sea area and the 'utilized space', and the question as to whether the space within the nature boundaries should necessarily be filled up completely.

In the future, ongoing feedback would have to be given to the community about both the fundamental science and the knowledge obtained from the actual management of the Wadden Sea area. It is possible, based on the availability of both the knowledge and the experience, for social considerations to play an important role in the decision-making process.

Support through interaction
Social and economic systems play simultaneous roles in the Wadden Sea area and they also influence one another. The Wadden Sea Council therefore considers it preferable to refer to a 'hybrid system', rather than to a purely natural system. This approach leaves room for considerations based on ecology, the business community and society. The choice in favour of a transparent and interactive process, based on this point of departure, contributes towards increasing support for political considerations and decisions. The political powers can accommodate the common interest groups by clearly explaining the policy on the economic co-utilization of the Wadden Sea area and act as a reliable authority in the execution and upkeep of the laws and regulations.

Action plan needed for the ecological model
It is important to know what kind of knowledge is needed to determine the advantages and disadvantages of a system of nature boundaries from the perspective of nature values.
The present uncertainties about the functioning of the ecosystem of the Wadden Sea area can be seen as an assignment for the design of an ecological (conceptual and calculation) model that could play a role in the formulation of the nature boundaries. Conversely, the elaboration of nature boundaries could also be influential in the formulation and priority of research issues. An action plan is needed for the development of such an ecological (conceptual) model for the Wadden Sea ecosystem, including strategies for the targeted deepening of the related ecological knowledge.

Monitoring with quality
Much of the knowledge on the basic functions of the Wadden Sea ecosystem must derive from a basic monitor for the (trilateral) Wadden Sea. Such a basic monitor must be prepared scientifically to form the foundation for what is needed to be able to effectively monitor the basic functions of the Wadden Sea ecosystem.

Monitoring the Wadden Sea would also demand clear and unambiguous direction. It must be possible for all proposed plans for new activities to rely on the knowledge and data derived from the basic monitor. For that reason, the results yielded by the monitor must be widely available; which is also the reason why everyone should work with the same basic data. This would require strict agreements with respect to the quality of the monitor.

Nature boundaries and economic development
Entrepreneurs are generally oriented towards maintaining business continuity and therefore need a clear and unambiguous permit system. That need is legitimate; however, implementing such a system is not that simple a task. The predictability of the outcome of permit applications is and remains highly dependent on the nature and scope of the effects of the economic activity for which the permit is sought. A system of nature boundaries could present opportunities for improvement.
Formulating the 'utilized space' as such opens the possibility of avoiding abrupt turning points (receiving or not receiving a permit) to the greatest extent possible. Not fully utilizing the 'utilized space' for economic activities creates margins that gives entrepreneurs room to temporarily deviate from the (permit) standard. By also setting upper and lower limits to nature boundaries, it is possible to create margins for economic activity. That, in turn, would make it easier to control and direct the activities in the area; for example, by creating space for innovations and experiments.

Dutch choices harmonized with German and Danish partners?
Because the Wadden Sea, as a whole, constitutes a single ecosystem, it is justifiable to question whether a system of nature boundaries would also be applicable to the German and Danish Wadden Sea. In view of the fact that the nature conservation legislation in the three countries derive from the same European rules and regulations, it should certainly be judicially possible. It is however a question of political urgency whether it would, in fact, happen. It would be essential to persuade both of the other Wadden Sea countries of the importance and added value of such a system, as an instrument for the harmonization of the Wadden Sea policy.

The Wadden Sea Council recommends that an investigation be launched to determine the possibility of implementing a system of nature boundaries with the German and Danish authorities from this point on.

Target image needed to determine boundaries
The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality would have to assume a leading position in canvassing support for the determination of nature boundaries. The relevant interest groups would, in turn, have to work out their expectations, wishes and requirements with respect to nature boundaries. To be able to do so, it will be necessary to develop guidelines based on a target image: What do we want and what don't we want for the Wadden Sea?

Download the summary of this advice (pdf,  25 K).

2007/02 Sustainable development of marine potential; vision on an integrated maritime policy

2007/02 Sustainable development of marine potential; vision on an integrated maritime policy

Development of the economical and ecological potential of the European seas and oceans
The European seas and oceans, the North and Wadden Sea included, are harbouring an enormous economical and ecological potential. At the same time it is justified to state that pressures on the seas due to human activities are strong and growing stronger. The European Commission is set on developing a European Maritime Policy through which the potential of the European oceans and seas will be optimised. This policy should balance the economical, social and sustainable aspects.

The Raad voor de Wadden (the Wadden Sea Council), the Raad voor het Landelijk Gebied (the Council for the Rural Area), the Raad voor Verkeer en Waterstaat (the Council for Transport, Public Works and Water Management), ad the VROM-Raad (the Netherlands Council of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment) consider the above a realistic goal. However, this does call for a radical policy innovation in both the Netherlands and Europe. Firstly, the new developments should follow the functions of the marine system. The dynamics of the sea offer opportunities for new economic developments but also set boundaries to these developments. Secondly, all governments concerned should take the offensive in their approach. Governments should take the lead in creating space and possibilities for the development of the maritime and marine potential. This requires ambitious governments. For the sustainable development of the oceans and seas, governments need to do substantially more than only assessing and permitting activities.

Elaboration of a development-directed approach
The Councils advocate a programmatic elaboration of the system-based development of the marine potential. Actual management based on permission planning strategies will in the long run contribute insufficiently to the desired sustainable economic and ecological developments. The fact that policies are largely directed towards damage control ( for example fishery policy and environmental policy), instead of optimising functions in the context of the marine system, is obstructing an environmentally friendly, sustainable development. The programmatic elaboration advocated by the Councils consists of the following building blocks:
* strategic regional visions for connected regional marine systems;
* understanding the interdependence of various regional values and functions;
* formulation of long-term economic and ecological objectives, with concrete indicators;
* planning and investing directed at sustainable economic and ecological development;
* monitoring, evaluation and feedback according to established indicators.

Commitment to maritime policy at various administrative levels
The Councils hold the opinion that in governance of the seas regional differences between marine systems should be respected. The development-directed approach mentioned above should therefore be elaborated on a regional level by all member-states concerned in co-operation. In this the Councils attribute an important role to the EU, which consists of:
* formulating a strategic outline: elaboration of the underlying principles in a development-oriented approach based on the integral system;
* establishing a directive: prescribing a regional elaboration and implementation of integrated maritime programmes based on the strategic outline;
* developing steering instruments: elaboration of various steering instruments applicable within a development-oriented approach.

Next to this the Councils discern a host of challenges for the European Union concerning its own policy and organization. In the Green Paper the European Commission itself stresses the importance of integration of policy areas. To construct a pro-active development-directed policy the EU needs to step up the integration of European rules and lines of policy applicable to marine and maritime matters.

Download this advice (pdf,  360 K).