Overview of the ESD Reporting and Assessment (ESDRA) Subprogram

Background of ESDRA Subprogram

Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) is now accepted as the foundation for natural resource management in Australia.  Since the national strategy was published in 1992, ESD has become explicitly – or implicitly – a major objective of all fisheries legislation at both State and Commonwealth levels.  Moreover, various changes to other Commonwealth and State environmental legislation, along with increased community expectations, have increased the urgency to implement the principles of ESD for all fisheries in a demonstrable manner.

To show that they are meeting the objectives of ESD, fisheries management agencies – and in some circumstances, the industry itself – need to be able to measure and report on progress against its principles.  To do this will require the development of a suitable framework for the reporting and assessment of ESD that will include:

  • operational objectives,
  • appropriately robust performance indicators and associated ways of measuring performance; and,
  • most importantly, the management methods employed to meet these objectives.

Most fisheries agencies have taken measures to ensure sustainability of fish stocks under their jurisdictions, particularly in relation to those species that are retained during fishing.  However, the scope of ESD is much broader than simply measuring sustainability.

Without clear criteria and indicators to measure all aspects of ESD – including ecological, economic, social and governance components – fisheries agencies and the fishing industry risk being unable to demonstrate that they are achieving, or even pursuing, ESD objectives.

During the last four years, a number of projects have been initiated to specifically address the implementation of ESD in relation to the fishing industry.  A review of the sustainability indicators and ESD issues within each fisheries jurisdiction was completed in 1998 (Sainsbury, et al. 1998), which resulted in a recommendation that a nationally coordinated R&D program on sustainability indicators should develop options that could be used in all jurisdictions.

It was recognised that such a process should, therefore, be closely linked to the operations of the then Standing Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (SCFA), which included the heads of each fisheries management agency in Australia.  More precisely, the review identified four main areas that required attention if ESD was to be implemented in Australia’s fishing industry:

Defining the terminology and the ESD framework.

  • Capturing national and international experience on ESD reporting.
  • Developing national guidelines.
  • Developing and testing the options for sustainability indicators.

Subsequent to this review and the emergence of other related issues, the SCFA established a Sustainability Indicators Working Group in 1999 to facilitate the development of nationally agreed criteria and sustainability indicators.  This group facilitated the development of a project proposal, designed to develop a conceptual framework and reporting framework for ESD and to test it using a series of case studies.

This concept was presented at the Geelong ESD workshop in March 2000, where it received strong support from the various stakeholder groups present.  However, there was a clear requirement for the formation of a national ESD Reference Group to ensure continued and effective stakeholder involvement in the process.

Following the approval for the project to develop reporting arrangements for ESD, the SCFA Working Group, in conjunction with the newly formed Reference Group, developed an initial conceptual framework for ESD and a series of core objectives.  Utilising this framework, proposed reporting arrangements were developed, based largely on the work that had been done by the Bureau of Rural Sciences (Chesson & Clayton, 1998; Whitworth and Chesson, 2000), the SCFA research committee, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization report on sustainability indicators for fisheries (FAO, 1999) and the reporting arrangements already in place in jurisdictions (e.g. Anon, 2000; AFMA, 2000).

This proposed reporting framework has now been tested during a series of case studies that covered a wide variety of fishery types and information levels.

At the workshop held in October 2000 to discuss the outcomes of these case studies, it was generally agreed that the process performed well in providing a report of what was currently occurring.  However, there were a number of areas identified where further work was needed, including:

  • Developing expertise to collect and interpret data for the social and economic components of ESD.
  • Increasing the effective communication of the issues relating to ESD to all major stakeholder groups.
  • Developing methods to ensure active participation of indigenous groups in the ESD process.
  • Developing the ESD framework and guidelines to enable the process to become a method of assessment, not just of reporting.

Some of this work will be incorporated into current projects, but some requires separate projects to be developed.  Note there are already other projects, such as the ‘Seafood Chooser’ , that have developed Environmental Management System processes for commercial fisheries which have a direct application to this issue.

It is also anticipated that many new applications will be developed to address aspects of ESD assessment and reporting.  Moreover, there are many other projects that will have an indirect impact on these issues (e.g. a project on the impacts of trawling), with their results being used to develop or modify the objectives and indicators that can be used in ESD assessment and reporting.

Given the large amount of work that is already underway – and the amount likely to be initiated in coming years – having a process to coordinate research effort at a national level that ensures maximum synergy and minimal duplication would be very sensible.  These ESD assessment and reporting projects are likely to fall into two main categories – developing suitable conceptual methodologies to appropriately deal with the new issues identified, and building the technical capability at a national level to implement these developments.

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