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An indicator framework to support comprehensive approaches to sustainable fisheries management

Eric Angel, School of Resource & Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada; Uu-a-thluk (Fisheries), Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, Port Alberni, BC, Canada
Danielle N. Edwards, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Sarah Hawkshaw, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Catarina Wor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Courtenay E. Parlee, Department of Anthropology, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB, Canada; Ocean Frontier Institute, Environmental Policy Institute, Memorial University (Grenfell Campus), Corner Brook, NL, Canada


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Indicator-based frameworks for assessing the sustainability of commercial fisheries have become well-established in the consumer sector. Within fisheries management, there are only a few jurisdictions, notably Australia, where sustainability frameworks are regularly used across the full spectrum of management functions, including planning, decision making, and evaluation. In Canada, a “sustainable fisheries framework” has been proposed but implementation has been limited to date. The Canadian Fisheries Research Network (CFRN), a six-year collaboration between Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the commercial fishing industry, and academic institutions, included as one of its major outputs the development of a comprehensive framework-based approach to evaluate the sustainability of commercial fisheries in Canada. Although most fisheries sustainability frameworks focus on the ecological domain, the CFRN explicitly recognized the social, economic, and institutional domains as having equal importance in a holistic treatment of sustainability. Following an iterative research and development process, a subgroup within the CFRN produced a novel sustainability indicator framework that combines a hierarchical subject matter structure consisting of domains, dimensions, and elements with a formula approach to developing indicators that utilizes a system of variables, or attributes. These two aspects of the sustainability indicator framework are linked in a way that helps to enforce comprehensive and routine methods for identifying objectives and relating those to specific indicators. The careful balancing of scope and depth makes for a powerful tool that can be used across a range of fisheries management contexts within Canada and in other jurisdictions that have a similar governance structure and high degree of institutional capacity. We present a detailed account of how the sustainability indicator framework was developed, the logic of its construction, and its potential application in fisheries management.

Key words

fisheries; framework; indicators; sustainability

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087