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Applying the criteria of European market standards for seafood products to concrete cases – Operability study and methodological developments

A collaboration between Sayari and students from Ecole polytechnique on fisheries impact on biodiversity

Reading time: 6 min

Once again this year (2022-2023), we have supported students from the Ecole Polytechnique in their joint scientific project. Objective: to establish a biodiversity impact indicator for fishery products. The starting point was STECF publications on sustainability criteria for fish products. The STECF (Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries) is the European Commission’s scientific body for fisheries. It has proposed (qualitative) criteria to assess this sustainability in 2020 [1], into (quantitative) indicators to objectify these criteria in 2022 [2]. This project has enabled us to operationalize these sustainable fishing criteria by comparing them with available data.

This project enabled the engineering students to become familiar with the scientific research approach: literature review, method development, data collection, application to case studies, critical analysis, writing and scientific popularization. Supervised by Grégoire and Aurore, they followed a rigorous timetable (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Project schedule and introduction of team members. From left to right: Flore Baize-Roch, Aymeric Bes-de-Berc, Ines Fonquernie, Anaïs Bourissou, Ambre Price; Grégoire Gaillet, Aurore Wermeille.

The aim was to compare methods for assessing sustainable fishing criteria with data available directly on the products: species fished, fishing area and fishing technique.

Their work led to:

  1. Propose evaluation methods for the majority of criteria;
  2. Apply them to case studies, comparing them with expected sustainability results from the literature;
  3. Develop a critical perspective on the relevance and feasibility of indicators.

5 of the 8 STECF environmental indicators were studied in terms of their impact on biodiversity; they were tested on 17 case studies (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Qualitative sustainability criteria proposed by STECF (left) and quantitative indicators studied as part of the project (right). The quantitative indicator « Impact on ETP species » is considered important, but was not studied as part of this project, pending the method currently being developed by the STECF. * ETP = Endangered, Threatened, and Protected species.

Some methodological aspects:

For the « Fishing pressure » indicator, an alternative method to the STECF method[1] has been developed. It systematically takes into account stock biomass and mortality, as well as their respective stabilities. This method is more discriminating than the initial method (CSTEP), providing a better distinction between the impact of fishing pressure on different products.

The STECF method for the « Impact on the seabed » indicator was followed: it is applicable to all products. Application to the case studies shows that this method mainly gives extreme scores: pelagic fish score mostly A, while groundfish score mostly E, with few nuances.

A method is currently being developed by the STECF for the « Impact on ETP (Endangered, Threatened and Protected) species » indicator. It has therefore not been studied as part of this project.

To assess the « Discards and by-catches » indicator, an initial method has been developed. It enables the characteristics of fishing gear to be taken into account: bottom vs. pelagic gear, active vs.

In order to assess the « Impact on the food web » indicator, a method has been developed. It takes into account the trophic level of the species and the relative biomass of the stock fished, two important elements for measuring the complexity of marine ecosystems. However, there is still room for improvement: other criteria will have to be included at a later date, to take into account non-trophic relationships and the role of keystone species.

A turnkey method is proposed for assessing the performance of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) under the « Fisheries management » indicator. It takes into account ecological, governance and transparency criteria. Regional and specific RFMOs are evaluated and ranked in the Table 1.

Table 1. Classification of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations according to the indicator developed for this project. Geographically defined organizations (red) are distinguished from organizations defined by the species they study (migratory species – yellow). The 4 oceans are distinguished (shades of blue).

« Carbon footprint » and « Waste and pollution » indicators are covered by Life Cycle Assessment. They were therefore not studied as part of this project.

Figure 3. Ranking and weighting of individual criteria to obtain the aggregated indicator.

Data collection, a major challenge for the project:

  • Scientific data can be broken down into several categories: i) fixed biological data on species and information on ecosystems and RFMOs, and ii) temporal and spatial data on stock status and fishing pressure. These data can be complex to collect, and Sayari’s expertise has enabled us to cross-reference the various databases, assess their relevance and determine the appropriate proxies.
  • Product data {species – area – gear} may be insufficient to identify the stock, or different criteria depending on the precision of the information. We have worked on collecting detailed information in order to make the most accurate possible assessment.

The results obtained enable us to classify the products tested from the most to the least virtuous (Table 2).

Table 2. Ratings for the different product scenarios tested. Products are ranked from most to least virtuous. NB: The score could not be obtained for two scenarios {European lobster (Homarus gammarus) – East Irish Sea – Trap} and {Scallop (Pecten maximus) – Channel – Bay of Saint-Brieuc – Dive fishing} because these two species are detritus feeders and have no trophic level.

Key project messages

  • Our cooperation with the academic world is bearing fruit: for the students, who have developed new skills and knowledge and have been praised for the quality of their work! But also, for the application of scientific knowledge, enabling us to offer decision-makers operational methods for environmental impact assessment.
  • Three indicators have been finalized:
    • The « Fishing pressure » and « Seabed impact » indicators with CSTEP methods compared with the methods used in this project;
    • The « Fisheries Management » indicator with the method developed in this project, a turnkey solution for evaluating organisations.
  • Two indicators have been the subject of initial scientific development. Further development is required to make them operational.
  • The challenge of combining scientific data and product data (given by the fish supplier) is a major one, and Sayari’s expertise and resources enable us to link them effectively for a pertinent assessment of the environmental impact of fishing.

[1] STECF, « Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) – Criteria and indicators to incorporate sustainability aspects for seafood products in the marketing standards under the Common Market Organisation (STECF-20-05) », 2020.

[2] STECF, « Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) – Validation of selected sustainability indicators and underlying methodologies for the revision of the EU marketing standards for fisheries products (STECF-22-12) », 2022.

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