Over recent decades, extensive research has been conducted on the impacts associated with different types of fishing gears, across a range of marine ecosystems. Many of these studies have been broad in their approach, spanning small-scale fisheries (SSF) and industrial fisheries, static and mobile gears, and single- and multi- target species fisheries. However, the majority of existing studies have focused on a single gear or limited number of gears, within a specific habitat, and – typically – with specific objectives in mind, such as understanding the potential impacts on Marine Protected Area features or fisheries’ impacts on ocean carbon storage.

In developing a new evaluation matrix, CABFishMan sought to create a resource that is specifically suited to SSF, collating expert experience-based insights that are universally applicable for all fishing gears operated by SSF in the Northeast Atlantic. Reflecting the wide array of gear types, fishing methods, and geographical location of SSF, CABFishMan’s matrix draws upon evaluations that explore multiple types of fishing gears in diverse habitats, interacting with diverse components of the marine environment.

Why do we need an evaluation matrix of fishing gear impacts for SSF?
The integral role that SSF play in supporting the livelihoods of coastal communities is commanding ever more attention and interest from policy makers, particularly in the context of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Though they are widely recognised as being less harmful than their large-scale counterparts, SSF are not devoid of impacts on marine ecosystems. To help identify avenues to mitigate such impacts, there is a need to build a basis of common understanding on perceived impacts from SSF that draws upon stakeholders’ expert knowledge as well as existing scientific evidence. This will enable managers to make decisions based on a collaborative approach that considers both perspectives.

Exploring the matrix
The matrix is a comprehensive index covering a wide range of impacts known to be associated with SSF activity, spanning physical and chemical impacts (e.g. sea bottom degradation and greenhouse gas emission), biological and ecological impacts (e.g. damage on threatened or protected habitats and bycatch species), and fishery impacts (e.g. discards and ghost fishing). These impacts may be associated with a variety of SSF gears, although the extent of impact (score) will vary depending on where the activities occur (e.g. water column or seabed) as well as the frequency of fishing events and the perceived duration of impact.

The matrix allows contributors to specify the frequency, severity and duration of a particular impact and, also to highlight the impacts inflicted on vulnerable habitats and species by scoring the pressure on threatened or protected habitats, as well as the different impacts observed on bycatch and discards – of both target and non-commercial species. It also evaluates the potential occurrence of fishing interactions by assessing the perceived likelihood of conflicts among gears within shared fishing areas. This latter element may help in wider Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) decision making.

Next steps: Gathering stakeholder perspectives
In line with CABFishMan’s objective of supporting collaborative management of SSF, the matrix will be filled by stakeholders from different interest groups, including representatives of fishing associations, management authorities, research institutions and conservation organisations. The scores given will be based on the perceptions, knowledge and professional experience of each contributor, with a final score that integrates the various perspectives and reduces the weight of ‘extreme’ values. This information will be used to propose potential mitigation strategies to manage and minimise SSF impacts on marine environments.

Read the full report