One of the aspects behind the critical situation of Mediterranean stocks is the high exploitation rate of juveniles in many demersal fi sheries. The fisheries management in place today has brought most of assessed stocks outside safe biological limits (FAO, 2017) and some of them face a high risk of biological collapse, such as
commercially-important hake (see Figure 1). Given this alarming status, the reduction in juvenile mortality is particularly relevant and is considered one of the main prerequisites for the future sustainability of Mediterranean fisheries (Colloca, 2015). In the same line, the protection of spawning areas would also contribute to improve stocks recruitment.
The need to identify nursery areas for overexploited species has been highlighted in previous sessions of the SAC. In fact, according to the last SAC advice related to stock status (Slovenia, May 2017) it was stated that “For all priority demersal species, proposed measures to reduce fishing effort included the improvement of exploitation patterns and the protection of the most vulnerable life stages of the population through closure areas and additional FRAs. This implies the identification of nursery areas”.
Following commitments made under the Malta MedFish4Ever Declaration and at the last GFCM Commission, the next steps to protect EFH are outlined in Resolution GFCM/41/2017/5 on a network of Essential Fish Habitats (EFH) including Sensitive Habitats (SH). Therefore, technical elements to contribute to the implementation of this Resolution should be presented at the 20th Session of the SAC along with a timeline containing quantified objectives. Technical elements mean the scientific tools that would serve as the basis to defi ning EFH sites.
In the last decades, a wide variety of studies, surveys and research projects have been conducted in the Mediterranean Sea aiming to identify key areas where juveniles and/or spawners aggregate. Such investigations with substantial scientific literature on the matter deserve special attention from fi sheries managers.
However, this information has not yet contributed to the proper implementation of spatial management tools except for limited and recent cases (e.g. designated FRA in the Strait of Sicily and Jabuka/Pomo Pit). As an example, the MEDISEH project, which directly addresses this issue, has produced relevant information to map spawning and nursery grounds (see Figures 2 and 3) and should serve as the basis for EFH definition in the basin.
Recalling the 41st Commission’s mandate (Montenegro, October 2017), Oceana has identified the most relevant scientific pieces of information related to EFHs in the Mediterranean and prepared a Preliminary scientific catalogue of technical elements for EFH identifi cation (see Annex 1).
Additionally, and according to the information in this catalogue, a short list of sites has been outlined that would serve as the initial steps to create an EFH network, fulfilling last year’s commitment (see Annex 2).
Aiming to contribute to the Resolution’s implementation process, Oceana recommends to the 20th Session of the SAC:
- To endorse a list of scientifi c technical elements, to initiate designation of areas to complete an EFH network for the Mediterranean (see Annex 1);
- To elaborate and agree on the list of basic regional-wide criteria which apply to the selection of future EFH sites (see Table 1);
- To look for a proper spatial balance on FRA designation for EFH, to contribute to stocks recovery in each subregion;
- To strengthen monitoring and enforcement requirements of fi shing activities within GFCM FRAs.